#Throwback: Black Ass: Kafka’s Metamorphosis in Lagos – Dami Ajayi
white man in Lagos has no voice louder than the dollar sign branded on his
Half-way into A. Igoni Barrett’s debut novel, Black Ass, this sentence assails
you with its truth and can effectively stand in as the mission statement of
Wariboko, 33, Kalabari, unemployed, is a faceless Lagosian, a mere statistic of
a third-world nation’s population till the first sentence of this book when he wakes
up in the body of a white man on the Monday morning of his job interview.
spite of his physical transformation, Furo remains a Lagosian in thoughts,
actions and phonation. He tries to adopt his new persona and adapt to it,
ultimately skipping home but, first, he must attend his job interview with his
new appearance which throw doors open for him. He clinches the job of a book
salesman, meets a Lagos big-girl, Syreeta, and a writer, Igoni, who also
suffers from his own transformation.
Mr. Barrett’s foray into the transformation metaphor deeply borrows from the Kafkaesque literary tradition but Furo Wariboko is no Gregor Samsa—who was at least employed—and he did not become an insect.
are several ways of reading Black Ass.
A satirical novel about decolonization.
A contemporary novel about mapping modern Lagos and, by extension, Nigeria.
A contemporary novel about social media, alter egos and subtle transformations.
A post-modern novel blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
A retelling of Kafka’s Metamorphosis in contemporary Lagos.
exciting thing about Barrett’s novel is the multiple perspectives but three
things remain constant: the author featuring as a character; steadfastness to
the theme of physical transformation and a cartographic exploration of Lagos.
has become a popular postmodern indulgence for writers to write themselves into
their books as characters but Mr. Barrett pushes it even further by introducing
Igoni, a writer like himself, into novel and perpetuating his character with
several encounters with Furo.
also used Twitter as a storytelling device. This is not a new event one is
inclined to say. Jennifer Egan once published a story in Tweets. Emmanuel Iduma
did same in his ambitious first novel, Farad. Teju cole ordered a story into
coherence by retweets and received encomium for his use of social media in
exploring literature. Black Ass pushes this exploration even further by blurring
the lines of fiction and blending it with social media by using his Twitter
persona to investigate the reaction of Furo’s family following his
disappearance from home.
in tweets (better still, in caches of timelines) interspersed with authorial
commentary, the twitter atmosphere is recreated along with the dominant trait
of a pretentiousness perpetuated by
being able to project one’s alter ego on this brand of social media. Tekena,
Furo’s sister, finds escape from the family crisis that ensued following her
brother’s disappearance on Twitter. She amasses followers, trolls strangers and meets @_Igoni who
insists on being called Morpheus (this handle actually exists)
a sense, Furo is a callous person. He lives home and doesn’t look back at his
distraught family. He selfishly embraces his whiteness, relocates himself in the part of Lagos frequented by people who
share his new skin colour—on the island side of the Third Mainland Bridge. And
everyone who shows him any form of kindness, his affective response to them is
constricted; at best he offers only apathy in return. Furo’s character flaw
foreshadows a post-coital observation that lends itself to the risqué novel
title: his physical transformation spared his “robustly black” ass.
debut novel which begins on a bed in Egbeda negotiates, by feet, to Ikeja, to
Oniru, charting contemporary Lagos with infectious vivacity and exactness. People
of all works of life—food vendors, kept women, corporate business owners—are portrayed
in their fullness, warts and all. In Black Ass’s power of acute observation on
Lagos is as intense as Ayei Kwe Armah’s works on Ghana.
all novels loose on plot, the initial verve ebbs as the novel winds to a
predictable end but Mr. Barrett must be given full marks for writing a
refreshingly contemporary novel that leverages on powerful literary traditions.