Title: Prodigals in Paradise
Author: Henry Akubuiro
Publisher: Lasmedia Press, Lagos
Reviewer: Nurudeen ARIBISALA
Lagos, an Eldorado of sort for some, and a stress-filled abode for others, is the kind of place that can make an individual who has lived a life that spans more than 40 years to still marvel at some happenings he had lived to witness in it.
Prodigals in Paradise by Henry Akubuiro, a novel divided into three parts, can be affirmed to have entered the canon of Lagos literature- worthy narratives about the experiences and escapades in Lagos- joining the leagues of the likes of Maik Nwosu’s Invisible Chapters, Teju Cole’s Everyday is For the Thief (reviewed here) and El-Nukoya’s Baron of Broad Street, among others.
“Paradise” is the name of an uncompleted building in the novel whose ownership is not claimed till the end of the novel. The prodigals are the occupants, with different coterie of characteristics, a bunch of funny and damning characters who hail from different parts of the country, surviving with several unimaginable jobs to make ends meet. The tenants in Paradise dwell together without paying a dime to anyone. The house, which reeks of all sorts of absurdities and incestuous act, is thus named Paradise. To some extent, I would love to think of Paradise as an imaginary extension of Lagos, a tiny piece of land thrown off the sea, inhabiting people from different cultural backgrounds, education and ethnicity. Without any law to bind them communally, each occupant of Paradise becomes a law unto himself (and herself). To survive, one must adopt the “Man must wack or man must survive” mantra, which has become an anthem stuck in the mouth of its residents.
Using the third person narrative, Akubuiro opens the first part of the novel with the baptism of Nicodemus into the realities of Lagos, through his first contact a with commercial bus (known as Danfo) and finally until he gets into Paradise, in search of his brother, Job, pending the time he would get his dream job.
The novel also exposes the antics Job and his erstwhile roommate (who later drowned) went through to eke out a living from the hardships of Lagos. It is through the exposure of their antics that the reader is exposed to the lies and falsity in able-bodied people pretending to be incapacitated and resulting to begging, using various forms, manners and approach to swindle unsuspecting people of their hard-earned money.
Book two does a vivid exposition of the poverty encountered by many in Lagos, a poverty which accommodates the larger percentage of people and the ordeal they go through in the hands of policemen, miscreants and other undesirable elements. One cannot forget in a hurry the example of the man who pretends to be a ghost for the lack of fare in the bus. The pendulum of want swings to Nicodemus, a graduate, is one of the many occupants of Paradise who result to different unskilled labour in order to survive the dark realities of Lagos life.
The last part of the novel is an exposé on religious shenanigans as revealed through the character of Job, who engaged in unimaginable and abracadabra acts to swindle people and win their hearts, using religion as the bait. Job later meets his Waterloo, Nicodemus became a hero, and the tenants of Paradise are sent packing.
In my opinion, despite the humour and entertainment prevalent in the novel, it is evident from one or two instances that the work is the debut of the writer. There is also a mishandling of the personal pronoun ‘he’ and ‘she’; using ‘he’ where ‘she’ is appropriate and vice-versa. This can be excused as an editorial error from the publisher, even though, unfortunately, the error of the publisher is also that of the writer. Also, there are instances of open spaces not filled up; some events are left hanging without having an invigorating conclusion. Apart from these two instances, the novel is a wonderful read, a thrilling “how to write a novel about Lagos.”
The novel can be said to posit the different strands of contemporary Lagos stories that often come to fore from rumour mill, individuals and newspapers. Without much ado the author put his journalistic profession to use- joining the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marques in this, weaving stories from their journalist experience. In a nutshell, it vividly captures the many absurdities Lagos is known for.
This is a recommendable book for those who seek humour to get away from the hustle of making a living, especially in Lagos. Anyone who wishes to reread the antics of delinquency of the duo of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer conjoined need no search further because the character of Junior, Keziah’s- the prostitute and nymphomaniac- son is a good replacement. So, rather than paying exorbitantly for stand-up comedian, a copy of The Prodigals in Paradise would transport one forth and back to the world of laughter.
A versatile and compulsive reader who aspires the triumvirate: critic, columnist and professor of African literature- in- English.