The Bad Immigrant

Sefi Atta. Interlink, $25 (248p) ISBN 978-1-6237-1905-0
A professor and failed writer moves his family from Nigeria to the U.S., hoping to establish better prospects for his children, in Atta’s sparkling latest (after Everything Good Will Come). It’s 1999, and Lukmon Ahmed-Karim, his wife, Moriam, and their teenage son, Taslim, and daughter, Bashira, have recently moved to New Jersey. The children adopt new accents to fit in, and Moriam gets a job as a nurse. But Lukmon, a self-described “bad immigrant” (“not the kind who aspired to be honorary whites,” he explains), works as a security guard despite his PhD in literature, then stays home as a househusband before finding a job as a professor in Middlesex, Miss., near the end of the aughts. Atta is unflinching in her portrayal of the unapologetic Lukmon’s ignorant perspective on American racism, which contains a layer of wicked satire (“You watched breaking news about an innocent suspect shot to death by the police, well, you could easily misconstrue that black people were inferior,” he narrates). It also takes him a while to warm up to the American custom of sharing domestic responsibilities with his spouse, and he resents Moriam for shirking her “wifely duties” while trying to influence the children on their career paths. Lukmon’s unfiltered voice is enthralling, and it’s satisfying to see Taslim and Bashira succeed by making their own choices, which Lukmon doesn’t always understand. This is a trenchant and notable take on the immigrant experience. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 08/19/2021
Release date: 11/02/2021
Genre: Fiction
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