Cologne-based journalist and contributing editor to The African Courier, Tina Adomako, reviews Lagos – Life in Suburbia. She describes the experience of reading the novel, originally published in 2019 but whose German translation came out just last December, as akin to watching a Nollywood soap opera
Ajayi Crowther Street in Lagos is home to the established middle class. This is where neighbours gather to gossip about those who are not present, discuss neighbourhood matters and faithfully attend Reverend Akpoborie’s church every Sunday.
The latter has laboriously built up the business of morality and religion. Now he shouts out Christ’s message every Sunday, invoking God’s vengeance on all sinners and unbelievers. This man of God condemns just about everything related to progress. But a look behind the façade of his own holier than thou attitude shows a classic case of someone preaching water while himself drinking champagne.
While each Sunday the Reverend invokes the wrath of God on all homosexuals, fornicators and all those he labels “sinners”, his own son Godstime is struggling with his sexuality, not daring to admit he is gay in the homophobic environment that surrounds him.
When, after a tragic event, Godtime’s parents do find out about his sexual orientation, they would rather see their son suffer from depression than have the truth be known. While sex before marriage is condemned as a sin by the entire congregation, the pastor’s daughter Keturah becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, who, ironically, is also the junior pastor at Reverend Akpoborie’s church.
The Reverend’s wife and first lady of the church, Caroline Akpoborie, quickly organizes a big church wedding for her daughter before anyone can get suspicious. Meanwhile one wonders by what standards the Reverend measures what he himself is doing behind closed doors with their young maid Kyauta …
Elnathan John knows his Nigeria well and in this graphic novel (originally published in 2019 as On Ajayi Crowther Street in English), he shares stories from everyday life in Lagos’ concrete jungle, stories that could be set in any other African city. The narration is accompanied by vibrant illustrations sketched by Nigerian comic artist Àlàbá Ònájin. Together the authors tell a lively story of religious hypocrisy, corruption, child labour, homophobia, sexism, materialism, neighborhood politics and family strife.
The authors denounce the mendacity of a society in which status counts more than humanity and in which people will do just about anything to keep up appearances. But they also allow room for positive moments.
There is time for sibling banter, aunty time and neighborhood meetings, with nice moments of humour lightening the rising tension. Using vivid images and lively dialogues John and Ònájin provide us with insights into the lives of their protagonists. Reading the novel is like watching a Nollywood soap opera, and you almost get the feeling of being right in the middle of Ajayi Crowther Street.
In the original version of the graphic novel (Title: On Ajayi Crowther Street, Cassava Republic Press, 2019), the dialogues are not only in English but also in typical Nigerian pidgin, which adds to the flavour and liveliness of narration. The German translation tries to maintain these nuances, partly by leaving certain dialogues in the original Pidgin. However, this tends to irritate a bit while reading. However, that should not stop anyone from reading this entertaining and critical graphic novel in one go.
- English version: On Ajayi Crowther Street by Elnathan John / Illustration: Àlàbá Ònájin; Cassava Republic Press, 2019
- German version: “Lagos – Leben in Suburbia” Avant Verlag, December 2021, ISBN: 978-3-96445-060-9