10 June 2016
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian, awakes the morning before a job interview to find that he's been transformed into a white man. In this condition he plunges into the bustle of Lagos to make his fortune. With his red hair, green eyes, and pale skin, it seems he's been completely changed. Well, almost. There is the matter of his family, his accent, his name. Oh, and his black ass. Furo must quickly learn to navigate a world made unfamiliar and deal with those who would use him for their own purposes. Taken in by a young woman called Syreeta and pursued by a writer named Igoni, Furo lands his first-ever job, adopts a new name, and soon finds himself evolving in unanticipated ways.
A. Igoni Barrett's Blackass is a fierce comic satire that touches on everything from race to social media while at the same time questioning the values society places on us simply by virtue of the way we look. As he did in Love Is Power, or Something Like That, Barrett brilliantly depicts life in contemporary Nigeria and details the double-dealing and code-switching that are implicit in everyday business. But it's Furo's search for an identity--one deeper than skin--that leads to the final unraveling of his own carefully constructed story.
I was really looking forward to Blackass and, unfortunately, I wanted to like it more than I did. Primarily, I think the disappointment is due to the likelihood that this book fell at the wrong time for me. I just wasn't in the mood to read it. I really liked the writing, in particular the idea of using themes from Kafka's Metamorphosis to look at race and culture in contemporary Nigeria, but something just wasn't clicking for me. Perhaps I was expecting more biting satire (it is pitched as a "fierce comic satire" and I wasn't getting a particularly fierce vibe) or I was missing some social cues (although Lagos and the culture of the city didn't feel any more "alien" to me than Teju Cole's or Johwor Ile's Lagos) or if I just didn't have the patience for this right now. Furo just made me feel frustrated, particularly at the end of the book. Which, now that I think more on it, is actually a feeling that I have when thinking about Gregor Samsa and his less savory predicament. Hmmm.
I'd like to revisit Blackass in the future, to see if it reads better at a different time. Barrett does have an excellent style so I'll definitely keep an eye out for his next book.
Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from Graywolf Press.