Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton on April 10, 2014

Source: Purchased

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

  

Nnedi Okorafor’s LAGOON is a challenging, thought-provoking examination of humanity vis-à-vis alien contact. It’s a classic story viewed through a fresh lens: the perspectives of people living in Lagos, Nigeria. If you don’t mind reading material that’s more on the literary side of things, then LAGOON is for you.

Although it’s told from a wide range of perspectives (many of them non-human), the story of LAGOON primarily follows the lives of Adaora, Anthony, and Agu in the days following alien contact in Lagos. These three individuals couldn’t be more different, but for reasons unknown, the newly arrived aliens believe that they are the right people to carry their message to humanity: they come in peace, and they’re here to stay. The reasons behind their arrival are never fully explained, so be aware of that if unanswered questions bother you.

From the moment they make their presence known to the inevitable confrontation between them and the human authorities, LAGOON is clearly more concerned with relationships and characters than plot. While the events of the story unfold over only a few days, this is hardly an action-packed story; rather, it’s an intense character study and a tough but loving examination of Nigerian sociopolitical culture. Nnedi Okorafor will make you respect the protagonist’s tough choices, sympathize with terrible people, and generally just feel a lot.

The writing in LAGOON is absolutely top-notch, and I appreciate the style and creativity that went into it. Okorafor writes in a mixture of styles and her use of Pidgin English throughout was really well done – while difficult to parse at first, I was able to follow along with no problems after a few chapters. As much as I enjoyed reading about the protagonists (Adaora was my favourite), in many ways Lagos itself was my favourite character. The child of Nigerian immigrants, Nnedi Okorafor is quite knowledgeable about Lagos and clearly has a deep love for the city despite its problems. From the physical geography to the competing religions, the 409 scams to the corrupt military and government, Okorafor treats it all with an even hand. As she writes in the book, Lagos rhymes with “chaos,” but that chaos is beautiful.

Now as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of unexplained events in LAGOON. Personally, I don’t mind a few open-ended plot points but I definitely wanted more concrete answers from this one. The only alien we actually see for any length of time is called Ayodele, a creature who can take on any human form and appears impervious to death. Their connection to the sea creatures living in the Lagos lagoon and the ocean waters surrounding the city is never fully explained either, which is a shame because I thought it was one of the more fascinating elements of the story.

It feels like Nnedi Okorafor’s work has been on my TBR list for years now, and although LAGOON wasn’t a perfect novel it was really good. Okorafor’s writing swept me away and I’m eager to see what I think of her other works.

Have you read anything by Nnedi Okorafor? Do you have any other recommendations for sci-fi novels set in Nigeria? Let me know in the comments!

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  • kariny

    I love rich literary texts! I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the story mostly takes place in Nigeria! It’ll be interesting to read another author’s take on the country! Plus you can’t go wrong with a little sci-fi thrown in 😛 Great post :)!
    Kariny @kariny’s boox frenzy

    • Me too, Kariny! But I don’t often make the time to read more literary books these days, so it’s really nice to be able to immerse myself in a book like Lagoon. I’ve had Americanah on my shelves for ages, this is the perfect reminder to get cracking and pick that one up! 🙂

  • Nnedi Okorafor is a new-to-me
    author, thanks for putting her on my radar. I admit this is not a genre I often venture into, but I’ll keep her in mind for those rare moments I feel like
    picking a sci-fi story. Though it probably wouldn’t be Lagoon, I’m not sure I’m
    ready for Pidgin English. I can’t recommend anything, I’m afraid, when it comes
    to books set in Nigeria.

    • You’re welcome, Ksenia! 🙂 Admittedly I’m more of a fantasy reader than a sci-fi fan, but when I do read sci-fi I’m often impressed by what I come across. Yeah, honestly the Pidgin English can be difficult to grasp even if you’re a native English speaker, so I can see how it’d be a serious challenge to read it!

  • This sounds really cool! I’m a huge fan of eerie-ocean things. TBH, this one sounds like it might be too hardcore literary for me, but I really liked reading your impressions of it!

    • Hahaha, that’s funny because it’s the exact opposite for me: I’m super freaked out by eerie-ocean things. Knowing your reading tastes I’d agree, this one is probably not your cup of tea…but anyone who likes a more literary sci-fi tale will like it!

  • I loved this too. It was so different from what I was expecting, but in a good way. Since reading this I’ve read one other book set in Lagos, which it turns out is a great setting for weird, alien stories!

    • Yes, exactly! I was expecting a very different story from what we got, but I’m actually quite pleased that it didn’t go the way that I expected it. Haha awesome! I’ll have to hunt that one down. 🙂

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    I need to read more from this author, indeed…
    Lagoon seems to walk along similar paths as Binti – encounter with an alien life form, cultural and political differences, and so on – which is a plus with me, since I enjoyed that story quite a bit.
    Open-ended issues should not be a problem, but I understand what you mean when you say you wanted *more*: I think that this is the way Okorafor “chains” her readers, playing Shehrazade to her audience 😀

    • Me too, Maddalena! I’m really impressed by Okorafor’s writing. Ooooh, that’s good to know! And an excellent way to phrase it too, haha. She definitely knows how to keep her readers interested in a story long after you’ve turned the final page. I’m very excited to read Binti, since so many people have had positive things to say about it!

  • Lynn Williams

    I still have to read this author. I did actually have a copy of this one but couldn’t initially get into it – I think I need to give it another try though – probably simply a mood thing.
    Lynn 😀

    • I’m a huge mood reader too so I totally get what you mean! Okorafor’s been on my TBR list for ages so I’m quite happy to have finally tried out some of her work — Binti’s up next. 🙂

  • It always takes me some time if pidgin, accents or whatever is used. But I get there

    • I’m the same way! Once I’ve adjusted to the dialectic writing then I usually love it.

  • I’ve heard of this author but haven’t been able to read anything yet! But the themes and world described has my interest peaked!!

    • Nnedi Okorafor is definitely an author I’d recommend to you Tori, especially if you’re in the mood for sci-fi. It’s always awesome to read a wonderfully written story by a Black woman, particularly since she’s been such a huge hit in the sci-fi community!

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I really enjoyed Binti, need to check this one out

  • Massive object crashing? Diverse setting? Gimme gimme. Love the premise and that intrigue the blurb gives off. Sounds really good. Love that the writing is top-notch, and I don’t mind the unexplained because it leaves room for me to use my imagination or it just leaves me in a sense of what-if. Great review. Glad you enjoyed the story for the most part.

    • I know, right?! As soon as I heard about this one I was totally hooked! If you’re looking for a really well written sci-fi, you can’t go wrong with Nnedi Okorafor. Her stuff actually reminds me a lot of the post-colonial novels I read in uni, which is a high compliment from me since I loved them!

  • Greg Hill

    That cover definitely got my attention! I think I remember seeing this one but never following up to learn more. Sounds interesting! And I love the idea of a connection to sea life- too bad that wasn’t touched on more. That would probably make it an auto- get for me. 🙂 Lagos sounds fascinating- nice to see it explored in an SF story.

    Great review Danya- thanx for sharing!

    • It’s definitely one of the more artistic, toned down sci-fi covers I’ve seen lately — and I love it! Honestly I’m a bit wigged out by deep sea life and sea creatures (who really knows what’s down there, Greg???) so I didn’t mind *too* much that it wasn’t more of a focus, haha. I would love to read another story set in Lagos, it’s a very captivating setting!

      • Greg Hill

        Yes the deep sea life thing can be freaky! I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of underwater civilizations ha ha but the reality is it’s probably just really dark and cold lol. Still, who knows??

  • I haven’t heard of this but I am so lost on all things book related right now. I’m not really into sci-fi unless it has a good romance but I’m glad to hear you loved it!

    Nereyda│ Nick & Nereyda’s Infinite Booklist

    • Hahaha I know what you mean! Usually I’m not really that into any genre unless there’s a good romance b-plot, but the writing was so good in Lagoon that I couldn’t resist!

  • I’ve read the author’s novella Binti and while I did like it, I wanted the story to be longer and have more explanations..Lagoon seems like my kinda book though..I don’t get along so well with novellas 😛 Great review Danya 🙂

    • That’s the trouble with novellas, isn’t it? They are so often creative and captivating, but sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough to the story! I do highly recommend Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire though, it’s one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. Thanks, Uma. 🙂

  • I have not read her before, and I don’t know that this is my cup of tea or the literary tone. I am intrigued by the setting and the POV she takes with the aleins. It weirdly, reminds me of Arrival. Hm I have to percolate on this more — great review!

    • Oh wow, now that you mention it this does have a lot of similarities with Arrival, especially with the whole “intellectual woman protagonist” angle! I didn’t even think of that. Lagoon is definitely not a book that everyone will enjoy, but I for one was very impressed by it. Thanks, Verushka!

  • I’m really glad you liked this one – It’s been on my TBR for a couple years and I finally bought a copy so hoping to read it this year. That said I am a little worried by the idea of open-ended plot points and vague explanations of the aliens. It’s good to know because I can likely be okay with this in the right mood. Have you read Akata Witch? This is a YA book by her and it has a fun plot and is generally awesome especially if you like the whole Harry Potter motif. It would be cool to see how you compares it with her writing here. Thanks for the great review!

    • It was on my TBR for ages too, such a relief to have finally read (and really liked) it! Had I know that it’s a bit open ended before reading it, I think I would’ve enjoyed that aspect of the story more, so hopefully it’s not too bothersome for you. Ooooh, no I haven’t read Akata Witch! It sounds absolutely amazing though…clearly I need to pick it up soon! 🙂

  • Danya! Stop it! You are making my TBR grow awfully large! I haven’t had this author on my radar until @ShankariUma:disqus reviewed Binti and now this…… What am I going to do???????????????

    Another great review as always.

    • It’s all a part of my evil plan, Di: taking over your TBR one review post at a time! Hahahaha. Uma’s review of Binti made me really want to read it too, can’t wait to see what I think of it. Thanks! 🙂

  • This sounds good. I mean, the fact you finish with a lot of things unanswered will bother me, I’m not gonna lie. I hate not knowing stuff, it’s like an itch you can’t scratch. A nightmare! That being said, the book does sound fantastic. I mean, the simple fact this book isn’t another western sci-fi is enough to get me interested so I’m glad it’s well written and a good book, even if it’s less plot than I may like. I have The Book of Phoenix on my Kindle waiting TBR and after this review I have an idea of what kind of writing to expect and fingers crossed a good book too.

    • Ugh, same! I wish that I could just let go and enjoy the unexplained, and in very rare occasions I can, but usually I need to have a least a few solid answers by the end of a story. It’s the whole promotion issues in The Hating Game thing all over again! Hahaha.

      Nnedi Okorafor’s writing is absolutely incredible. Even if you don’t love the plot of The Book of Phoenix (or her other work), something tells me that you’ll love her writing, Becky. And honestly, what don’t you have waiting on your Kindle?! I swear you have the largest ebook collection of anyone I know!

      • I know, I seriously have too many books on my Kindle. I like to be prepared though! Zombie apocalypse all I need is a generator to keep my kindle charged and I will be covered for my reading needs for several weeks.

  • Interesting! Usually when I think of science fiction, I definitely think more of an action-packed story as opposed to a character study. You know how I am with science fiction, but i think this is one I could get behind. I also love that the characters are from Nigeria. But oh gosh! Unanswered questions at the end?? I wonder if there will be a sequel or companion to this!

    • Hahaha, yes I do know how you are with sci-fi! Honestly I used to be the same way. The unanswered questions honestly drove me mad…a couple nights after finishing Lagoon, I was lying in bed almost asleep when the thought “but what happened with ___?” popped into my head and I was wide awake for hours afterwards. LOL.

  • Darn, I totally could’ve used this book for my cover post about tentacles! I don’t think this would be for me, I get especially annoyed by unanswered questions, but it does sound like it’s got a lot going for it! That’s awesome that it’s set in Nigeria, I’ve never read a book set there but I feel like I recently added one to my TBR… Can’t remember what book, but anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this one! The character focus sounds great.