Lagos Noir: Darkness in a West African Megacity

Chris Abani
Chris Abani, author of Lagos Noir, and esteemed Nigerian author.

By Taylor Owens

Editor Chris Abani and several authors have released a new book that takes you on a journey through thirteen stories that stretch the boundaries of “noir” fiction and fully capture the essence of darkness that continues to prowl through the streets, alleys, and waterways of Lagos, Nigeria.

Lagos Noir is a continuation of a groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies that seek to showcase the unsettling darkness of certain districts or neighborhoods in a different city for each novel. Each addition to the anthology is comprised of multiple fictional stories by various authors who are native to the city that the novel features.

Lagos Noir showcases the very unstable and noir past of Lagos. Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria and its former capital. It is also the largest megacity on the African continent, with a population of about twenty-one million people.

There are rumors that there are more canals in Lagos than in Venice. The difference between the canal systems in each city is that the canals in Lagos are unintentional.

Gutters that have become waterways and lagoons fenced in by stilt homes or full of logs for a timber industry most people don’t know exists. The thirteen stories that make up this novel perfectly capture the gloom and dimness that has had a continuous hold on this coastal city.

Each of these all-new stories is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within Lagos, which has brought the addition of West Africa to the Noir Series arena.

The thirteen fictional stories are written by some of Nigeria’s most compelling writers who articulate the darker side of Lagos impeccably.

Excerpts from the Book, Lagos Noir. Impressions of the city

From “What They Did That Night” by Contributor Jude Dibia:

Everything from then on seemed to happen fast, just like life in Lagos—the real Lagos, not the make-believe utopia of these island estates, where rich people’s children rode fancy bicycles, played basketball and had nannies and gatemen. Complete darkness came swiftly. Lagos nights could be unforgiving.

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From “Just Ignore And Try To Endure” by Contributor A. Igoni Barrett:

For anyone can see that Lagos is a city of rats—they far outnumber the twenty million human inhabitants. They live in our homes, feed better than we do on our waste, and adapt more quickly to the poisons and anthropogenic microbes wiping us off the earth. Even today no map of Lagos would be complete without a rat’s-eye view of the garbage landfills and trash-choked canals, the mechanic workshops bursting with metallic skeletons dusted in rust, the polluted subsoil devoid of plant root networks, the crumbling foundations of concrete constructions, the underground labyrinth of household septic tanks leaking sludge into the groundwater. The rotting underbelly of the city we built for the rats.

From “Heaven’s Gate” by Chika Unigwe:

Emeka’s first day as an Okada driver in Lagos was so nerve-racking, so stomach-churning that he wondered if he should back to Reverend and return the bike. He wasn’t sure that he could handle putting his life in danger—Lagos drivers drove like madmen—every day. Riding in Enugu, even as a new driver, had never induced as much fear as driving in the city did. He worried that if he did not hurt himself, he would kill someone else, and so he crawled through the traffic while everyone else moved like lightning.

From “Eden” by Uche Okonkwo:

Madu and Ifechi enjoyed visiting Uncle Zubby and Aunt Agodi. They would pile into their father’s Santana and ride with the windows down—the car’s AC had been broken for as long as the children could remember—inhaling the breeze and exhaust smoke blowing in their faces. They would look out the window as they passed the police barracks and the market on their muddy street, the sights and smells at once teasing and assaulting.

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On Ikoyi Road, they would pass the immigration office, quiet and deserted on the weekend, and then the massive building of the old Federal Secretariat compound, with almond trees lining the fence and dotting the grounds. It was around this point that the noise and grime of Obalende began to give way to Ikoyi’s genteel influence. The streets grew quieter, with actual sidewalks and streetlights that mostly worked.

Colonial-style houses stood proudly in vast tree-lined compounds with green lawns. Even the air felt different. The children would often spot white people in shorts and canvas shoes walking exotic-looking dogs, and they would stare at the dog-walkers until they became flecks of white in the distance. Madu liked to imagine that the oyinbos were never able to go beyond the secretariat. That if they tried, some unseen, all-powerful barrier would literally stop them, and they would turn around and walk their dogs back to Ikoyi.

About the Editor

Chris Ibani is a Nigerian-born, award-winning poet and novelist who is currently teaching at Northwestern University in Chicago. He is a recipient of a PEN USA Freedom-to-Writer Award, a Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond Margins Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, and a Guggenheim Award.

Buy this book on Amazon Lagos Noir (Akashic Noir Series)

Taylor Owens

Taylor Owens is a Tennessee native who is currently calling the Massachusetts Berkshires home. She is passionate about the classics, folk music, and coffee. Taylor spends her days as a ski instructor at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, paddling plenty of rivers, skiing the slopes, sipping coffee, or on the hunt for the best breakfast.