“To all who feel personally attacked or offended by something in this book, with love”. Elnathan John starts with a gentle warning to all who are easily offended by statements they think “fits the shoe”. My interest only peaked upon reading this line. So here’s my second book review on Becoming Nigerian. The satire nature of the novel did not disappoint and as the author states in the introduction subtitle: “Never, ever, explain satire”.
About the author
Elnathan John is a Nigerian author who gave up Law in 2012 to become a fulltime writer and has since published attention-grabbing novels one such as “On Ajayi Crowther Street” and “Born on a Tuesday: A Novel”. He has also been nominated for the Caine Prize for African literature. Becoming Nigerian a Guide is one of his latest works and the approach he has taken can be described simply as the most sarcastic, fun-filled and thrilling novel that I have read so far.
About the book
Becoming Nigeria is relatively short with about 150 pages with an average reading time of 4 to 5 hours. The book focuses on different aspects of “life as a Nigerian”. The everyday experiences we go through and how we and other nations perceive ourselves. The writing style is unique. John starts off the introduction similarly as the book of Genesis in the Bible which makes it even more intriguing. He follows this style in different snippets of the book. The book references God throughout and any Nigerian would know that as a Nigerian, God is very much intertwined into everything we do from our waking moment to when we “hit the hay” at night. A common phrase throughout the book that I love is: “May God bless your hustle”.
The phrase “May God bless your hustle” is used to describe the street savviness Nigerians must muster in order to avoid being the victim of other people’s hustle. Everyone fights for their hustle, so you must hustle or be left behind. It is safe to say that as a Nigerian, I am taking his advice. This book review on this blog is an example of my hustle. So in John’s own words: “May God bless my hustle” and I pray he blesses yours.
Some jokes are written in imitation to bible scriptures including one written in the format of a Psalm. “The benevolent dictator is my shepherd; I shall lack nothing. …makes me lie down in hunger and fear, but only because it leads me to righteousness. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along his own paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley with no electricity, I will fear no evil…” This fits with the lack of constant, reliable electricity and the tactics politicians use to control their communities.
The book contains different sections that make it easy to follow and sends you to a place where you’d catch yourself smiling at a joke even after you have put the book down. I also love that he touches on politics and religion; two very sensitive topics in Nigeria. As always, he ends with “may God bless your hustle” which dampens any hard feelings you may be getting from what I would call “guilty conscience”. So, as you read this book review or commentary, I would like to say the same to you: May God bless your hustle! Somebody say Amen! Except in the book, it appears to be sarcastic so be mindful of how loud you say Amen, it might just be indicative of your actions.
Well, you see what I did there? That is exactly how he makes you feel as you read through “Becoming a Nigerian.
The statements in the book come at you fast. You have no time to think twice about the previous “bold statement” before the next is in your face. I would describe it as a thriller but one that is filled with jokes and statements that would normally offend the masses. However, John makes it more enjoyable to bask in the words and reminisce on “the good old days” for those of us in the diaspora.
Key topics discussed in the book
The key topics covered in the book include Spiritual, health, material things (temporal), Work ethic and the working class, law and law enforcement, politics, international relations both home and abroad and travel advice (sarcastically speaking) for Nigerians going to the UK and the US. At the end of the book, he also leaves some interesting Nigerian phrases and their meaning which I will try to capture in the review.
The topics covered although filled with satire and of a sarcastic nature, are all written from truths. Any Nigerian will pick up the novel and find themselves smiling and nodding in agreement with the things he talks about. Truths from religion such as “how to worship the Nigerian God”, especially in aspects of prayer, worship, singing and using “God willing” and “by God’s grace” in everything we do, sadly also in scenarios where you wouldn’t expect to attribute such activities to God.
John explores the work ethics of individuals who must have a business card as a sign of importance. He also explains the class system that exits in Nigeria. Would it surprise you if I said you must save the whole year to go to the cinema? Yes, this is the reality for some, where going to the cinema is very much like going on holiday.
Other topics include politicians who would do anything thing, by any means to get into power and at the end “attribute it to God”. This is especially true to those who cannot account for their riches or how government budget allocated to their state or local government area is spent. You must have heard in the news in 2018 when apparently “a snake swallowed 36 million Naira”, the equivalent of 72,000 pounds. Well there you have it; these are the things that are expressed in the book.
Becoming Nigerian is a book that leaves you in belief unbelief, shock and in many states. It is difficult to take everything he says seriously. The book provides you with laughter and disbelief at the audacity with which he writes. One cannot also ignore the fact that as a Nigerian, life is taken too seriously and “with a pinch of salt”. As you read through this review, I’m sure you’ll notice the unapologetic nature of the book. Yes, there may be many things that we complain about but I’m sure you know the common phrase: “I can’t come and kill myself”. This phrase seems powerful enough to diffuse every stressful situation.
Interesting phrases and their explanations
“I am almost there – When I finish heating the water to take my bath, I will run just one small errand and then head to where you are”. We all know that when a Nigerian says I’m almost there, they really haven’t left their house. Don’t get angry.
“God-willing/ By the grace of God/Insha Allah – He explains these expressions have no known meaning. It is safe to disregard”. We all know the saying too well. If someone asks you if you will be going to their house tomorrow, rather than giving a definite answer, you’ll say: “ehn we’ll see, by God’s grace”. Most times you’re still deciding if you will be going but we often don’t want to offend them.
“Do you know who I am? – Do you realise that I could know or be someone in government who can cause great suffering in your life?” Most times, this statement comes right before a scuffle or a fight. You can hear similar statements daily if you need to. That is if you are lucky to come across a road rage scene.
Those are some catchy phrases you may be already aware of. John included them and it gives different perspectives to those who do not understand most of the statements. To be Nigerian is fun and interesting and although we have some issues, we love to live life. I cannot capture the total truth of this from the book in this review, but I always say to some who ask me about Nigeria: if you want to laugh every day, just stand by the roadside in a busy city like Lagos and you will get your daily dose of laughter.
I got this on Amazon and you can find it here
Overall, “Becoming Nigerian” is a book everyone can and should read including the Nigerian and non-Nigerian. John’s writing is menacingly funny, cunning and sarcastic. Yet it also goes into the offensive and defensive of the Nigerian experience. The constant and relentless sarcasm might offend some. However, I’m sure that although they may get the “guilty conscience”, they cannot fault the narrative in the book. Yet, I will recommend it to anyone. As John says:
_ With Love.