Imagine This by Sade Adeniran
Published by SW Books
Cover artwork by Jonathan Guy-Gladding (Jag)
My rating 5/5
This is the second book for my Orbis Terrarum Challenge and it is set in Africa. It is one of the best début novels I have read; I was gripped from the first page to the last.
Lola Ogunwole and her brother, Adebole, were born to Nigerian parents in London in the late 1960s. Abandoned by their mother, they are taken into foster care and live happily with a family in Kent until 1977, when their father suddenly takes them to live in Nigeria. Imagine This is Lola's journal account of her life there from the age of nine to nineteen.
The journal starts with the nine year-old Lola's arrival in her father's home village of Idogun. She is left among relatives she has never heard of before; she cannot speak their language and knows nothing of their culture; she is separated from her brother, who has been sent to live in a different village; she is unwanted and unloved and spends the next ten years moving between unwelcoming relatives.
The contrast between her life in Nigeria and her early childhood in England is stark: she has to become accustomed to living with no sanitation, to getting up at dawn to fetch water before going to school, to living in a society where beatings and starvation are accepted punishments for children. Dreadful things happen to Lola but it is not a depressing book. Her family and friends may be blind to her qualities but the girl revealed through her journal is loveable, funny and, above all, full of courage and hope.
It is a compelling book, I read late into the night because I desperately wanted to know how she would get out of each seemingly impossible situation. It also gives a fascinating insight into a very different culture: we learn about rural and city life in Nigeria in the 1970s and '80s as Lola moves between the village and Lagos. Her experiences are set within the context of great political and social unrest in Nigeria, with political coups, civil uprisings, corruption and murders.
I recommend this book highly and feel very lucky to have a signed copy. I look forward to reading much more from Sade Adeniran.