cover image A Spell of Good Things

A Spell of Good Things

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. Knopf, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-65764-4

Adébáyọ̀ follows up Stay with Me with this bright and distinctive tragedy set in modern Nigeria. Ẹniọlá, a teenager whose father has lost his job, can no longer pay the tuition at the private school that he’d hoped would enable him to rise from poverty. Wúràọlá is a doctor from a wealthy and politically connected family. She’s overworked in an underfunded hospital, and courted by well-bred Kúnlé, whose mood shifts and possessiveness unnerve her. Ẹniọlá takes an apprenticeship with a tailor, but after he is beaten at school for the unpaid fees, his mother insists Ẹniọlá and his little sister accompany her to beg for money. Things spiral out of control when Ẹniọlá’s parents decide to pay his sister’s tuition with the proceeds but not his. He takes his revenge by joining a gang working for the vengeful politician Fẹ̀sọ̀jaiyé. Wúràọlá, meanwhile, becomes engaged to Kúnlé despite her misgivings, and though her parents are ecstatic, he slaps her at a party. Kúnlé’s father is running against Fẹ̀sọ̀jaiyé, and the story’s violent denouement is as devastating as it is inevitable. Pitch-perfect details provide a sense of the characters’ lives—the red dust caked on Ẹniọlá’s white socks from long walks to school, the soft headscarf worn by Wúràọlá’s mother that “barely whispered”—and as the characters are pushed to the brink, Adébáyọ̀ delivers a searing indictment of the country’s corruption and gender inequalities. This packs a powerful punch. Agent: Kathy Robbins, in association with Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander Associates. (Feb.)