Book Chat: Michael Donkor’s Hold and Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos by Tireni Odubiyi

“These two books are journeys. The more you read, the more complex they get and the more you get entwined in them,” says Arit Okpo, hosting the book chat with Michael Donkor and Chibundu Onuzo, authors of Hold and Welcome to Lagos, respectively.


Author Michael Donkor explains how in Hold, he wanted to reflect his experience of Twi, the predominant language spoken in Ghana. “My relatives often move between Twi and English very fluidly without explaining when they are jumping from one to the other. I wanted to try and replicate that,” says Donkor on his choice to explain some Twi words and leave some unexplained for readers to figure out in context. Arit Okpo comments on how this idea feeds into the wider ongoing debate amongst writers across Africa on whether to use glossaries to explain terms written in our indigenous languages or leave the audience to use contextual knowledge of the text to try to understand passages.


On the other hand, Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos takes the reader on a different kind of journey relating to belonging and community. The protagonist of the novel returns to Lagos from abroad with what she describes as a ‘naive arrogance’. “He thinks, yes I am going to come back and shine a light on corruption; everybody is going to rally around me and we are going to change Nigeria.” Chibundu explains that though this optimism is needed, you need local knowledge as well. “You need people that know how to navigate the space or else you will make the same mistakes your predecessors made,” she says.


Speaking on why she felt the need to write the novel, she comments that she wanted to highlight the sense of community and diversity found in places like Lagos where everyone comes together to survive. ‘‘You have so much side by side, so much melding, so many different communities.”


These two books defy any form of simplicity in their construction and narratives.