In Blackass, Igoni Barret does for Lagos what Chimamanda Adichie did for Nsukka in Purple Hibiscus; he lets us experience the city of Lagos and takes us right into the novel in typical Igoni style. Blackass introduces us to Furo Wariboko who woke up one morning and discovered he was now a white man – not fair; he had become a Caucasian man overnight, but one who retained his black ass. He was therefore forced to abandon his family while he went on a job hunt, all the while trying to make sense of what had happened to him.
Of the new Furo, Igoni wrote:
“And so it went, stares followed him everywhere. Pedestrians stopped and stared, or stared as they walked. Motorists slowed their cars and stared and on occasion honked their horns to draw his face so they could stare into it. School bound children hushed their mates and poked their fingers in his direction, wrapper clad women paused in their front yard duties and gazed after him, and stick chewing men leaned over balcony railings to peer down at him….”
Blackass is hilarious and God knows I love me some funny fiction. However, underneath the humor are very strong themes which make this novel actually quite political. Igoni explored race and white privilege, hair, sexual identity, sibling rivalry and complexities of family structures among others with such dexterity that shows that he is quite fearless with his pen. The white Furo was accepted at nearly every office he went to and everywhere he turned, people fell all over themselves to offer him a job. This is something that is very common in our society today; send a white person to prospect for business for you in these parts and see how fast contract papers are signed.
Furo’s relationship with Syretta is another interesting part of the plot which to me is quite familiar. If you live in Port Harcourt like I do, you will be used to seeing a lot of young women who live over-the-top lifestyles without jobs. Now there is also a higher position in this hierarchy of women – those who have relationships with foreigners with biracial kids to show for it, and in Port Harcourt, white men are not in short supply, due to the oil and gas industry. Syreeta Cleary saw Furo as her ticket to the upper echelon of her demographic and she made sure she took advantage of the situation. In the end, I think both Furo and Syretta were both selfish people, each one using the other to achieve a purpose.
Blackass is the first novel I have read that the writer put himself or herself directly into the plot. Typically you may see one or two characters that may share a resemblance to the writer (for instance I thought there were many similarities between Chimamanda and Aunty Ifeoma of Purple Hibiscus). In Blackass, we were introduced to an Igoni too who was a writer and who shared a very strong physical resemblance to the author; they even shared the exact same twitter handle. Many people thought this was narcissistic, but I found it interesting for the most part. The Igoni character also went through an incomplete metamorphosis just like Furo; he transformed into a female and just like Furo, something was left; his sexual organs did not change. This played around transsexuality and started a conversation about gender reassignment.
There were a few holes in the story such as the timeline of Syretta’s pregnancy, but in all, Igoni has entrenched himself as a strong voice; one not afraid to speak, political yet subtle and a voice that elicits a strong visceral response from his readers. Igoni takes on complex stories and delivers it so beautifully that you are left wanting for more. And he makes me realize that not everybody is gifted with the talent of writing and storytelling at the same time. He is one of the lucky ones who have both skills.
Of family, Furo said:
“It would never end as long as he owed his family. Theirs was a debt of semen and milk, of blood and sweat and tears. A debt he could never repay nor escape. But he would try…”
This is one of the best books I have read this year and I am giving it a four star rating.
PS: You love the cover photo, right? I have a long history with the flamboyant tree and one day I shall tell of it here.
Written by Franklyne Ikediasor