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A Bit of Difference, by Sefi Atta.

October 17, 2012

A Bit of Difference, by Sefi Atta.  Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex Press, 2012.

An interesting novel about a professional African woman’s experiences in London, where her job is based, and in Nigeria, which is still home to her.

A Nigerian herself, Sefi Atta gives a glimpse of life as lived by her main character, Deola, a contemporary Nigerian woman.   At one point, Deola complains about the way Africa and Africnsa are presented globally as having nothing but warfare and poverty.  No one ever writes about the experiences of people like herself.  Deola is the daughter of  a  moderately successful family who live Lagos.  At 39, she is a professional accountant based in London.  She works for an international charitable foundation,  traveling globally to audit groups that receive their grants.  Although she has reached a point of some stature,  she is unhappy and lonely.  As an African working with whites, she is uncomfortable and critical of their attitudes toward her and toward Africa.    On a visit home, she finds much she dislikes in present-day Nigeria, but she also realizes that at least the people there are her people, unlike those she encounters on her job.  In writing about Deola, Atta forces readers to see why those who receive  the best the western world can give are not as happy and grateful as we mistakenly expect.

Atta is at her best describing the various attitudes and behavior Deola experiences relating to her race.  The only African working for the foundation, she is a perpetual outsider.  She is bothered by the mistakes they make in picking a spokesman for Nigeria.  Even more troubling are the attitudes toward Africans which the others display.  She wonders if their emphasis on how needy Africans are is counterproductive to their becoming strong and independent.   Charity is based on the assumption that “Nobody gives money to people who they are on a par with, so someone has to be diminished in the process.”  Westerners prefer an African who “has the common decency to entertain them with stories about how awful his country is.”   She is also critical of how little attention the charitable foundation pays to the actual needs and viewpoints of those they set out to assist.

When Deola returns to Lagos, she is troubled by the corruption, violence, and hypocrisy which has developed since she grew up there.  She has little admiration for her family members.   Elderly relatives complain of a Nigeria that is no longer theirs to control.   In the course of the book, however, she accidentally finds a new reason to draw her back to her own country and its people.

I read a review copy of this book graciously sent me by Spinifex Press, an Australian press that defines itself as feminist and is committed to helping women appreciate each other in all our diversity.  I am impressed by the books they publish and grateful to them for receiving this one.

I recommend A Bit of Difference to readers interested in how we relate across ethnic and geographical boundaries and in a present-day depiction of Nigeria’s urbanized and westernized upper middle-class.   For all its critical messages, A Bit of Difference is an enjoyable book, with bits of humor and grace.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012 12:35 am

    I am just reading this now … and will come back and comment when I’ve finished it and written my review.

  2. October 22, 2012 5:50 am

    My reaction was pretty much as yours Marilyn. I really liked her description of Deola’s experiences and confused feelings as an educated African woman who finds it hard to know where home is, who feels an outsider in both places in a way. I liked the political overlay to the personal story too. And I liked the way she decided Nigeria really was her home because of “shared history”. The writing didn’t sing to me, the way some does, but it was perfectly competent and there was some nice humour there.

    • October 23, 2012 8:48 am

      Yes. I agree, but I think you captured the book better.

      • October 23, 2012 4:06 pm

        Oh do you? I thought you did! I loved you description of Deola’s conundrum.

  3. November 21, 2012 10:52 am

    An indepth review, Marilyn. I dare say Sefi has been able to capture the feelings of the African educated middle class who finds himself lost living in the west. Another definite read for me. 🙂

  4. July 30, 2015 7:40 am

    This has been on my to-read list for a while. I need to push it up the list! Thanks for the review 🙂

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