“No one asks to be born, to be black or white or any color in between and yet the identity a person is born into becomes the hardest to explain to the world”
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK, first published by Chatto & Windus
I first read Why Radio DJs Are Superstars in Lagos, a short story and novel in progress from the Africa39 collection in 2015. A few weeks ago, while I had my face buried in Blackass (no pun intended) I had a feeling of déjà vu and later recalled that I had really read that part of the book in the short story collection. It was like completing a puzzle and I remembered how I had promised myself to get the full novel as soon as it hit the shelves. Promise kept!
Lagosian Furo Waribuko, wakes up on the morning of his job interview to find that he has transmogrified into a white man. He fears having to explain his new condition to his family and so escapes and makes his way to the interview. On his way he realises the reality of being a white face in a sea of black faces – the stares that follow him, along with the loud silence, the humming whispers and snide remarks. When he arrives at the place of the interview, people do not believe that he is really there to interview for that particular vacancy. A white man with a Nigerian name, accent and CV details that do not match the colour of his skin. The interviewer calls Furo an impostor and is unable to contain his lividity. Someone else comes to the rescue, interviews Furo and offers him an even better position.
With his transformation, Furo decides to go far from home. After meeting a writer who will later have a significant reappearance in his life, he meets the beautiful Syreeta. This woman takes him in and looks after him in every way. Furo knows where she gets the money from, how she gets it and how she can afford to spend so much on both of them. One day, he and Syreeta make an interesting discovery – although he has white skin, green eyes and red hair, his ass is ‘robustly black.’
He finally commences his job and after a bumpy start it gets better. After a few attempts of being poached (because of his colour), one particular job is too tempting and he agrees. After this agreement, he gets home to receive undesirable news from Syreeta. The decision he ends up making takes him on a path that leads him away from his dreams and back to a place he had escaped.
Igoni Barrett writes with knee-slapping humour and inexhaustible cleverness. Before you venture into the pages, the title itself is quite daring and soon as you dive into it you discover how fearless and provocative it is. Blackass draws the nature of the people of Lagos in a satirical manner, and draws to attention some of the ridiculous attitudes and beliefs they have. It is an easy and enjoyable read. This is an author who is clearly unafraid to say what he wants to say and when he does say it, it just comes out in the right measures and with just the right balance of taste.
A. Igoni Barrett was born in 1979 in Port Hacourt, Nigeria. Blackass is his debut novel. He won the 2005 BBC World Service short story competition. In 2014 he was one of the writers in the Africa39 collection of short stories. He has also published a short story collection titled, Love Is Power, or Something Like That.