Four siblings describe growing up in Lagos as virtual orphans, left to fend for themselves.
Covering a period of twenty years (1996 – 2015), Nigerian writer Tola Rotimi Abraham’s debut novel, Black Sunday, describes the mixed fortunes of four siblings. There are the twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike, and brothers Peter and Andrew. Each sibling has an alternating chapter in which they chronicle their lives in a Lagos slum.
The book begins when the siblings are all young children. Their mother has lost her government job due to political reasons out of her control, and their father loses all his money in some dodgy business dealing. Both parents run out on their children, leaving them in the care of their grandmother.
What follows is the story of each child growing up in poverty and uncertainty, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. There is no real plot to Black Sunday, it’s more a series of vignettes of Nigerian street life, even a rake’s progress as the children’s lives become more miserable and compromised. That makes Black Sunday sound pretty grim, and it is, but it’s also shot through with plenty of dark humour.
An unvarnished look Lagos’ urban underbelly, featuring a rogues’ gallery of street hustlers, crooked businessmen and hypocritical religious figures. The book paints a particularly disturbing picture of the life of young women – raped, exploited and demeaned, with little to no chance of getting ahead in a world where the cards are stacked against them.
Often uncomfortable, yet necessary reading.
Black Sunday, by Tola Rotimi Abraham. Published by Cannongate. $19.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books