Swallow by Seffi Atta || Book Club
When I heard Swallow by Sefi Atta was coming to Netflix, the purist in me had to read the book before watching the movie.
For most young people getting by in Lagos can be quite the game of survival. It’s no different for Tolani and her roommate, colleague and best friend Rose hustling during the War Against Indiscipline era of 1980s Lagos.
As is typical with young women, Tolani and Rose, navigate life, love and work through a sometimes-bleak maze. Two young women who struggle to keep their lives from crumbling, face some tough decisions at work and in their personal relationships. The defining moment comes when the lure into an even darker side of life, confronts them in their efforts to keep from being thrown into poverty. The results are some very damning consequences.
Another central character to Sefi Atta’s tale, is Tolani’s mother, Arike, whose timeline in the past runs parallel to current events. A strong woman who charted her own subsistence in the face of disappointing life circumstances and became sole provider for her family. She maybe keeping secrets of her own.
There is something to be said in an unresolved ending where the author has taken the secret with them. We do not get resolution to a significant question and I feel the author has given readers license to speculate and guess. Delightful and infuriating at the same time. Makes for great discussion.
Swallow is very much about women and the things we do to survive the patriarchal confines that exist in Nigerian society. It is about the tenacity with which we deal with independence, infertility, sexual assault, duplicity, motherhood, loss and all the other curveballs life throws our way.
“Lagos living” was very evident and Sefi Atta painted a familiar landscape for even the most casual observer. The city comes to life! So much so that I could almost smell it. In Swallow I was reminded that Lagos is not for the faint of heart. Survival is at the very core of existence and nefarious people are always waiting to dupe or lure the unsuspecting into futile get rich quick schemes. This is the unforgiving side of Lagos.
I find that I’m a girl’s girl. I like books about women “making” their way in life, their day-to-day activities, personalities and affects appeal to me on a very visceral level.
Another thought that struck me is that 30 something odd years later the harbinger if War Against Indiscipline is the same man at the helm of affairs in his 2nd stint as President. Confounding! A lament for another day.
All that’s left now is to watch the Netflix adaptation done by Kunle Afolayan. I’m quite a fan of his work. The reader in me was also glad to hear Sefi Atta was involved in writing the screenplay which hopefully means the film will do justice to the book.
This Book Review of Swallow by Sefi Atta was written by Omolola Agbe-Davies. Omolola Agbe-Davies is a fierce Lagosian in self-imposed exile. She is currently pursuing a career in Data Analytics and she shares her musings on Instagram @litlagosian
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