cover image Prince of Monkeys

Prince of Monkeys

Nnamdi Ehirim. Counterpoint, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64009-167-2

Ehirim’s dense and incisive debut throws a harsh spotlight on a diverse group of friends as they come of age in politically corrupt and economically divided Nigeria during the late 20th century. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, and stretching from 1985 to 1998, the story follows the lives of three boys—nicknamed Pastor’s son, Mendaus, and Maradona—who are preteen as the novel begins. Their friend, Ihechi, narrates; he’s a directionless student who likes playing soccer, watching movies with Mendaus’s beautiful older cousin Zeenat, and going to the Afrobeat mecca Afrika Shrine. But when Zeenat is killed during an antigovernment riot in 1992, the tragedy sends ripples through the group, prompting Ihechi’s mother to send him to live with his aunt far from the turmoil. Over the next six years, the teenagers mature and adopt leadership positions on different sides of political party lines—a reality that tests their friendship, as well as their belief in their country and faith in themselves. An abrupt end involving an infamous prostitution ring and an immoral general adds an ill-fated, gruesome twist to the otherwise idea-driven narrative. Ehirim writes with a heavy hand, using stilted metaphors and catchphrase parables that sometimes detract from the narrative flow. Still, the novel is a vivid, astute portrait of Nigeria—and its people—in the throes of upheaval. (Apr.)