This excellent book collects essays by the Nigerian writers Nels Abbey, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Yomi Adegoke, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Oyinkan Akande, Ike Anya, Sefi Atta, Bolu Babalola, J K Chukwu, Abi Daré, Inua Ellams, Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ, Caleb Femi, Helon Habila, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Anietie Isong, Okey Ndibe, Chigozie Obioma, Irenosen Okojie, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, Lola Shoneyin, Umar Turaki, Chika Unigwe and Hafsa Zayyan to provide a multi-faceted view of Nigeria.

Ore Agbaje-Williams and Nancy Adimora (eds) – “Of This Our Country: Acclaimed Nigerian Writers on the Home, Identity and Culture they Know”

(18 August 2021 – NetGalley)

by the age of 6, i was fluent in English, Hausa, Yoruba and my Igbo was conversational. But truly my first language had no words: it was Nigeria. It was my dialogue with the space it contained, the interaction with the ground, the touch of the breeze, the kitchen sink I’d climb into to cool down, the skin of mango I’d suck on, the sounds, colours, shapes, patterns, the people. All the things that I conversed with through my senses before I could assign words to them. (Caleb Femi – “Home History”)

Having noticed how many Nigerian writers were getting published and well-known, the editors decided to commission a book of essays by Nigerians on their homeland, and came up with this excellent collection. It truly is multifaceted, with perspectives by men and women, older and younger, and based in Nigeria, based in the UK, or moving between the two. I would imagine it will give a sense of recognition and visibility to readers connected with the country, and it provides an entertaining and thought-provoking read for those less knowledgeable about Nigeria and its diaspora. I certainly learned a lot and kept calling out interesting statistics to my poor husband. Well, did YOU know that a fifth of African people live in Nigeria?

There’s a huge variety of experiences but they crystallise around the political situation of the country since independence, and the disappointment many feel in the lack of progress that has been made, given the achievements of Nigerians outside Nigeria, and lots of commentary on why this must be; education, the power of education, and where it should take place; and parties and commemorations. I had encountered quite a few of the authors through my reading, and the bios in the back of the book (one disadvantage of the ebook is the difficulty in flicking to these as you’re going along) make me want to approach a good few more of them.

There’s a lot of good stuff on moving between Nigeria and the UK – from feeling free in a Black body, unpoliced, when in Nigeria to viewing protests against police brutality from a distance but not wanting your daughter to get involved. Writers reflect on going to the market and how that reflects all human life, on organising a parent’s funeral and feeling the communal love of the village, on moving to a different country and discovering life could be different from that in Nigeria. There are reflections on class and race and war, on the differences between the north and south of the country, on national service, on parents and children.

This is a book written with love, and that love is unsparing and shines a bright light on corruption and complicity, but it’s also an often-lyrical portrait of a country in its good and bad that is a valuable and enticing read.

Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Of This Our Country” was published on 30 September 2021.