cover image This Motherless Land

This Motherless Land

Nikki May. Mariner, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-308429-2

In this intelligent family drama from May (Wahala), a British Nigerian girl is twice dislocated from home amid tragedies. Funke Oyenuga grows up in Lagos until she’s nine, when, in 1978, her English mother and younger brother die in a car accident. Her Nigerian father then sends her to England, to live with her maternal grandparents, whom she’s never met. Her older cousin, Liv, who also lives in the family home with her mother, Margot, eagerly welcomes Funke, though Margot resents the financial burden she places on the family. Margot treats Liv harshly, too, and dotes on her wild son, Dominic, who’s away at boarding school. Funke accedes to pressure from the family to go by her middle name, Kate, and she excels at school. The story jumps to 1986 London, where Kate has secured a university scholarship and Liv, an aspiring model, is blackmailed by a fraudulent modeling scout following a racy photo shoot. After Kate refuses to give Liv her scholarship money to bail her out, Liv steals Margot’s prized pearl necklace. More crises befall the family, which, in a lesser writer’s hand, might play as melodrama, but May keenly portrays how Kate’s relatives make her a scapegoat for their problems, resulting in her return to Nigeria. This is worth a look. Agent: Catherine Cho, Madeleine Milburn Agency. (Sept.)