Friday, April 8, 2016

#BookReview: BLACKASS by A. Igoni Barrett

In Franz Kafka's The Trial, the protagonist,  Mr. K, awakens one morning to find that his life has been turned upside down through no fault of his own. It seems that he's on trial for a crime that he's committed, but no one will tell him what the crime is and he spends a great deal of the book going back and forth to government agencies and makeshift courtrooms that take place in living rooms and other spaces around town trying to find answers.

Nikolai Gogol's The Nose tells the tale of Major Kovalyov's nose. The major wakes up one day to find it gone. The nose has literally taken on a life of its own. While the nose conducts business around town, Kovalyov's life is slowly falling to pieces until one morning he awakens to find that it's back on his face where it belongs.

Much like these surreal tales, A. Igoni Barrett explores the possibilities of waking to an unexpected life change. The morning of an interview for a new job, Furo Wariboko awakens to find that he's been transformed into a white man, complete with green eyes and red hair. Doors in Lagos that were previously closed to him as a "true" Nigerian are suddenly flung open.

Furo finds himself with a better job than he initially interviewed for, new friends and a new living situation. The only vestiges of his former life are his name, which can be easily changed, and his black ass. You see, while every other inch of his body is pale white, his butt remains black.

It would be easy to assume that Furo, now Frank, becomes a bit of an ass with his new personality. In actuality, the reader doesn't know. Our time with Furo is short. Frank, however, uses his newly elevated status in society to his advantage. Job offers suddenly appear for the man who'd previously been unable to find work. He has a pretty woman on his side and other women vying for his affection. Is this a result of his whiteness or new found confidence?

That question and others plague Furo/Frank throughout and come to a head eventually. And that's where I got confused. Because I was never sure if the personality coming through was Furo or Frank, it was difficult to figure out the author's ending. Would Frank go back to being Furo? Would he use his position as Frank to help his family? The book ended and I just wasn't sure.

Speaking of the author, Barrett inserts himself into the story line in a way that I've never seen done before and without seeming intrusive. He plays a character that befriends Furo early on and reconnects with him later, having gone through his own transformation. He also seems to be the one person that Furo completely trusts in the end, perhaps because he's the most relatable due to the circumstances.

I really liked this book, but I can see how others might have problems with it. You have to be willing to stretch your imagination and having a bit of knowledge about Nigeria might be helpful. That being said, I think everyone can find something to enjoy or make you think in the latest from Barrett.

256 p.
Published: March 2016

Purchase: Amazon | B & N | Book Depository | IndieBound

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