A white man in Lagos has no voice louder than the dollar sign branded onto his forehead.
Half way into A Igoni Barrett’s debut novel, ‘Blackass’, this sentence assails you with its truth and can effectively be described as the mission statement of the novel.
Furo Wariboko, 33, Kalabari, unemployed, is a faceless Lagosian – a mere statistic of a third-world nation’s population — till the first sentence of this book when he wakes up in the body of a white man, on the Monday morning of his job interview.
In spite of his physical transformation, Furo remains a Lagosian in thought, action and phonation. He tries to adopt his new persona and adapt to it. Ultimately, he chooses not to return home but first, he attends his job interview in his new skin, which throws doors open. He clinches the job of a book salesman, takes up with a Lagos big-girl, Syreeta, and meets a writer, Igoni, who also experiences a bodily transformation.
Mr. Barrett’s foray into the use of transformation as conceit draws deeply on the Kafkaesque literary tradition, but Furo Wariboko is no Gregor Samsa, who at least was already employed as a salesman before his transformation, and Furo does not become an insect.
There are several ways to read Blackass: as a satirical novel about decolonization; as a contemporary novel that maps modern Lagos and, by extension, Nigeria; as a contemporary no ...