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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