Imagine waking up one morning and realizing that your skin turned into a new color. That’s what happened to Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian in his early thirties, jobless and living with his parents and younger sister in Lagos.
Furo slept with a black skin and woke up as a white man with red hair and green eyes. Unable to understand neither explain what happened to him, he hides his new condition to his family and flees from home. In this unexpected journey, he experiences life as a white person in Lagos, with both the persistent glances in some parts of the city, the sunburns, and the preferential treatments one can get just because he is white.
Furo Wariboko turns into Frank Whyte and tries his best to forget about his former life. He will be used for his whiteness and will also take advantage of other people. But in the same way that his ass remained the only black part of his body, it seems like some areas of his past can’t just easily disappear…
“Blackass” is a beautiful satire of life in Lagos with the corruption, luxury prostitution, the double treatment based on race or wealth, and the negative image that even Nigerians have about their country. The experience of Furo being stared at in the streets, reminded me of my journey in China. I could feel the annoyance of having so many pairs of eyes on you almost everywhere you go.
Igoni Barrett also criticizes the addiction to social networks and our rush towards likes, retweets, online popularity. One of the chapters is almost entirely made of the tweets of Furo Wariboko’s sister. And I enjoyed the fact that the author went as far as making a real profile on Twitter for her, even though it didn’t have all the tweets mentioned in the book.
At some points, Igoni introduces himself as a character of the story. He has the opportunity to meet Furo Wariboko and starts to investigate his past. He is also going through his own transformation and it seems like his encountering with Furo gives him the strength to move a step further.
The characters of “Blackass” sometimes speak in pidgin and the author didn’t bother to translate, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when she introduces some Igbo words in her books. But fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to understand what was meant during those conversations, and it actually takes us deeper into a life experience in Lagos.
I learned that “Blackass” was a reworking of Franz Kafka’s “The metamorphosis”, in which a man woke up to see that he has turned into an insect. The plot is unpredictable and Igoni Barrett gives us some good moments of laugh. But he also makes us see life from a different perspective, which makes “Blackass” an even more interesting novel, beyond the writing style. I definitely recommend it!