Book Review: 'Love Is Power, Or Something Like That'

Alan Cheuse reviews a collection of short stories called Love is Power, Or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett

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Nigeria has produced some very accomplished writers, from Chinua Achebe to Chimamanda Adichie and now, A. Igoni Barrett. He is 34 years old, and his second collection of short fiction has just been published in the U.S. It's called "Love is Power, Or Something Like That." Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it's a remarkable portrait of life in Nigeria.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Nine stories in this thoroughly lively, though not always immediately appealing, collection; most of them successfully reveal deep truths and troubling contradictions about contemporary life in Nigeria with its loves, lusts, quotidian sexual encounters, email, Tupac ringtones, TV, cataract surgery and modern dentistry that make up the facts of life there.

I say lively because Barrett has a forceful, direct way of bringing his characters to our attention. Ma Bille, for example, the 68-year-old woman with failing eyes who appears in the lead story "The Worst Thing that Happened," has been, as we hear, in and out of the operating room so many times that the antiseptic reek of hospital walls was as familiar to her as the smell of baby poop.

Such odors don't make a story particularly friendly to a middle-class American reading sensibility. At the same time, they add to the reality of life in contemporary Lagos and elsewhere in the country. In almost every story, Barrett displays the sometimes repulsive, sometimes bitter realities of his country's manners and mores.

For example, the narrator of the story "Trophy," who happens to be a motivational speaker, describes his encounter in a provincial town with a man of medium height with skin the color of rotted wood, a man whose pleasure seems to come from corrupting other businessmen.

The traffic cop on the take in the title story dramatizes the split between the dangers of his working life - at night, on the roads, with sketchy drivers always with a bribe at the ready - and the fatigue and brutality overtaking his love for his family at home.

All in all, Barrett's stories don't deliver pretty truths. The contemporary globalized culture of every day Africa he gives us seems quite messy and utterly convincing.

SIEGEL: Alan Cheuse reviewing the short story collection "Love is Power, Or Something Like That" by A. Igoni Barrett. For more updates about books and authors, you can like NPR Books on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, that's @nprbooks.

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