For a historical overview, I would recommend it “Lagos: A Cultural History” by Kaye Whiteman. It traces the history of the city from the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1472 to the occupation by the British in 1861 and the modern era. It takes us through the topography of Lagos (the Island-Mainland divide), its streets and their stories, the city’s nightlife and its film, music, art and literary scenes.
What books should I bring with me?
Teju Cole’s novel “Every day is for the thief” it is designed like a travel guide. The anonymous narrator has just returned to Lagos from New York after 15 years. He wanders the city thinking about her danfo buses, internet scammers, local boys, police officers, music center and the like. He describes the body language of Lagosians as one of “unshakable confidence”, their facial expressions proclaiming: “Trust me, you don’t want to mess with me”, all to face the local boys. You’ll find Lagos at its best (its people are warm, stoic, insanely creative) and at its worst (lynchings in the streets). Throughout the narrative, there is a sense of decay, mirroring that of the entire nation. In a poignant episode, the narrator visits the Nigerian National Museum in the Onikan neighborhood and finds the exhibits meager, the sculptures and plaques “crushed in dust” and “badly moldy.”
Chris Ambani’s postmodern “GraceLand” set mainly in 1980s Lagos in the swampy slums of Morocco. Elvis, 16, dropped out of high school. She aspires to become a professional dancer. At first, he tries to survive by impersonating Elvis Presley for white expats, wearing a wig and washing his face with talcum powder. Redemption’s friend leads him into crime, with disastrous consequences. At times brutal and horrific, the novel is also tender and hopeful in its portrayal of deprivation, dictatorship and disillusionment. In addition, his pastiche narrative includes notes on Igbo philosophy and recipes for delectable Nigerian dishes.
Unlike Abani’s Elvis, Sefi Atta’s star Enitan “All good things will come,” growing middle class. Born in 1960, the year Nigeria gained independence, Enitan’s transition to womanhood takes place against the backdrop of Nigeria’s civil war, military juntas and widespread corruption. Despite her privileged position (she works as a lawyer and later as a banker), she struggles to navigate her patriarchal society, the repeated sexism she experiences (even from her own father) and the trauma of being raped by a friend. The affecting narrative offers feminist solutions for a troubled nation.
In Lagos, you’ll want to try some Nigerian food. The classic Nigerian jollof? The fragrant suya or moin-moin? Whatever your appetite, “Long Memories: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds”, by Yemisi Aribisala, it’s built for this. This fascinating collection of essays is part memoir, part cookbook, and part epicurean treatise — and it uses Nigerian cuisine as a framework for analyzing Nigerian society, culture, and folklore. Major themes include the urban-rural divide, the destruction of the traditional against the ‘modern’, and the ethics that underpin the consumption of controversial foods such as dog meat. Aribisala’s prose is energetic, deft, a joy to read. The book complements Abani’s recipes “GraceLand”.