Book Review: Swallow (#26/30)

Title: Swallow

Author: Sefi Atta

Published By: AAA Press

Release Date: 2011

Genre: Fiction

Format: Paperback

Length: 196 pages


It is the mid 1980s in Lagos and the government’s War Against Indiscipline and austerity measures are in full operation. Tolani Ajao is a secretary working at Federal Community Bank. A succession of unfortunate events lead Tolani’s roommate and colleague, Rose, to persuade her to consider drug trafficking as an alternative means of making a living. Tolani’s subsequent struggle with temptation forces her to reconsider her morality and her mother Arike’s, as she embarks on a turbulent journey of self-discovery.


And to think I was randomly gifted this book not too long ago? I do not know if I would have come across it if it had not been a gift. How have I not stumbled on Sefi Atta’s work until now? *wails in French*. Anyway, better late than never.

I was immediately drawn to the first few pages of this book for a number of reasons.

First, it’s set in Lagos, a city that will forever have my heart. Some parts of the book are set in Lagos Island where I grew up and instantly connected to, so I had no problems with conceiving images in my head of the different scenarios the author effortlessly painted.

Second, the book is set in the 80s which is quite an interesting era for me. Considering the fact that I was not born in the 80s, I definitely could not have experienced what life was like at that time. I was therefore left to my prior knowledge about the 80s and the author’s use of imagery to create a Lagos, set in the 80s in my head.

Boy, was I mighty impressed!!

Whenever I opened the pages, I was immediately transported to the an ever-bustling city with monumental buildings and strict laws, a city with no mobile phones where people had conversations by kerosene laterns and the likes. I may not have been born then, but this book definitely brought Lagos in the 80s to life. I also noted some similarities in Lagos in the 80s and contemporary Lagos. Amazing stuff.

I loved the fact that as the author told Tolani’s story in first person narrative, she found a commendable way to weave in Tolani’s mother’s story into the book, which was also told in part in first person by Arike (Tolani’s mother). The stories of these two women perfectly told, enabled me to make a subconscious comparison between life as a woman and societal obligations during Arike’s era and that of Tolani’s.

I only wonder why what I would consider as the main plot of the book started about halfway into the book…but because I loved reading it, I’m ready to make the excuse that the first part explores Tolani’s background and gives readers the opportunity to see life through her eyes.

All in all, an absolutely great read.


A strong 8.8/10 from me.