Book Review: Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Book Review: Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett 

If nothing else, Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett is a literary celebration of the lights and sounds of Lagos. It manages to capture the busy city in its essence - the bustle, the rush,  the seemingly thoughtless juxtaposition of the good, bad and ugly and the ever present readiness for anything.

Furo Wariboku, a typical Nigerian undergraduate searching for a white-collar job, experiences a life changing transformation overnight - by some unexplained, and perhaps inexplicable, circumstances,  he wakes up an oyinbo. This transformation would turn out to be a gift and a curse wrapped up in one.

The transformation, Kafkaesque in nature, plays out quite deliciously, as the reader finds out just how it is to be white in Lagos. Mr Barrett, by implication, comments on one of the often ignored effect of colonialism.

What strikes me the most about Furo's transformation is not so much his change in skin colour, but how that change seems to transcend his skin. Yes, he speaks the same way, and perhaps he thinks the same way as he has always done but there is a gentleness about him that is accentuated in his new skin: his vulnerability, his quietness, his constant need for attention (Syreeta's), his refusal to contact his family, these alienations all convinces the reader of his whiteness.

Furo understandably likes his new skin because of the doors it opens for him, and hence, tries to protect this identity by severing ties with his old self -as his ultimate attempt, he goes ahead to change his name to Frank Whyte.

Things get more surreal when Furo comes in contact with a writer named Igoni (perhaps the author's attempt at personalizing himself into one of his characters) who also goes through a similar transformation later in the novel. Igoni (the character)  becomes the link between Furo and his estranged family.

Mr. Barrett surrounds his protagonist with a lot of witty, funny, complex and interesting characters which helps to spice up the plot and capture the human elements of Nigeria.

Blackass is a social commentary on opportunisms, racial relations in Nigeria and the extents people would go to achieve their desires. Every character in this story is an opportunist: Furo takes advantage of his transformation, Haba! takes advantage of his white skin,  Furo's sister takes advantage of his disappearance to get Twitter famous, Syreeta takes him in only to get a mixed-race child.

Blackass is written in parts and sections  - Furo Wariboku, Morpheus, Frank Whyte, etc. It is sometimes funny and very well written. The very plot of this novel prepares the ground for its surreality and the reader should expect no less from Mr Barrett whose imagination runs wild in this beautiful novel.

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