>> Monday, February 02, 2015
Things are changing for the staff of Lagos firm City Finance, and not necessarily for the best. But for Ada Okafor, a bright, dedicated and beautiful trainee accountant, the only change worth noticing is the dashing, British-trained new assistant managing director Tony Okoli.
Ambitious and determined, Ada ignores her feelings for Tony and focuses on juggling her work in accounts with completing her degree in business and finance. But their love of books draws them closer together and soon they embark on a secret but passionate affair.
They soon discover that the course of love does not run smooth and a host of obstacles - from Tony’s disapproving family to jealous colleagues - litter their path. Their passion for each other is truly tested as they fight to persuade themselves and the world that love, in the end, trumps social status.
I heard about Ankara Press through CD, who often comments here. It's a new romance imprint based in Nigeria, publishing contemporary stories set in Africa and with African protagonists. This is something that I've long wanted to read... not Africa in particular, but romances set in places outside the US and Western Europe, with protagonists who are both locals (all those HPs with American/English girls falling in love with Greeks/Italians/South Americans in exotic locations which have only a distant relation to reality are an extremely poor substitutes).
Anyway, Ankara Press only have a handful of titles available so far, but several of them appealed to me. I also really liked some of what I read in their About us page: Their stories feature women "who work, play and, of course, fall madly in love in vibrant African cities from Lagos to Cape Town" and men who "are not afraid of independent and sexually assertive women". They want to publish books that "reflect the realities of African women's lives in ways that challenge boundaries and go beyond conventional expectations". Sounds pretty damn good to me!
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, so I bought one of their books to try. Love's Persuasion is set in Lagos. Ada Okafor is a young woman working as a receptionist in a large family-owned business. She's determined to build a successful career, so she's studying to be an accountant and getting some experience by helping out in the accounts section.
When the big boss's son is brought in to take on the role of assistant managing director (clearly a first step in him taking over from his dad), Ada doesn't expect anything to change, other than, she hopes, the firm becoming more professionally run. Tony Okoli is one good-looking man and she really liked what she saw of him when they briefly chatted at the reception announcing his appointment, but she's not going to endanger her job by messing about with the boss. But Tony was really taken with Ada, and, although he knows he shouldn't, he keeps making friendly overtures.
The book started out very well. I liked Ada a lot, with her determination to stand on her own and make a success of her own life, rather than simply marrying a rich guy, as people in her life keep pressuring to do. She takes no shit from Tony, and is quite happy to tell him that she’s not going to be one of those wives who will just put her diploma up as a trophy while they keep house for a man. No, if she marries a man it will be someone who will share the housework and make it possible for her to have a career, just as much as he does. There’s a scene when Tony invites her to his place for a meal and suggests having Chinese. She’s surprised when, instead of ordering in, he starts taking shrimps and fresh veggies out of the fridge. She wonders, outraged, if this guy is imagining she’ll be cooking him a meal. Nope, Tony cooks HER a meal, which is a good way of signaling that he might be exactly the sort of man she’s looking for.
But Tony is a character who feels a lot less developed than Ada. We know he has no real interest in taking over from his father. Tony wants to write and when in London, he actually left a job in the City (he’s an accountant) to write. But then his father became ill and pressured Tony to come back and take over the business, even though his sister, Samantha, also has a business degree and is willing and able to take over instead. But that’s as deep as his character goes, really. Tony feels pretty passive about all this. And some of his actions were hard to understand. He’s formally engaged to a family friend's daughter, mainly because their parents have pressured them into a relationship, but he doesn’t love her. And he pursues Ada anyway (all the while telling himself he shouldn’t), without really giving much thought as to whether he will go forward with the engagement. He seems to be the kind of person who thinks that if they ignore a problem, it doesn't exist. The engagement issue does gets sorted out, but not through anything HE does. I got to the point where I doubted he would have done anything at all.
Mainly because of Tony’s lack of depth, the romance is not great. I kind of liked the first half, mainly because they bond over a shared love of books and Tony’s support of Ada’s ambitions, and the action centres on Ada and her life and her work. But things started going downhill at about the halfway point, when Tony suddenly declares he loves Ada (I was like… Whaaa???? When did that happen??) and they start dating in earnest. That’s kind of the signal for the crazy soap opera stuff to start happening. Female characters, particularly, go all catty and horrible and slut-shamey and start attacking Ada. Even the previously quite professional, good people round Ava in her job go weird.
It does come good in the end, in an unexpected way, but that was in the last, quasi-epilogue chapter. Tony has become a very appealing character and clearly has grown some decisiveness, but unfortunately, we haven’t seen the transition.
I must say, though, the setting partly compensated for the so-so romance. I couldn’t help but compare this to Snow Angels, which I've recently reviewed and which I read just before. That was written by a foreigner living in Finland, mainly for a foreign audience. Snow Angels carefully explained the context of all the particularly Finnish things and functioned almost like a cultural travelogue. I actually enjoyed this element of the book, but I also liked the completely different experience of Love’s Persuasion. This one was written for a local audience. There’s no allowance made for foreign readers. Things like: people will use Pidgin English when they would normally do so, and the reader is assumed to know the connotations of the characters living in or going to different Lagos neighbourhoods, that sort of thing. I was sometimes a bit lost (mainly with the Pidgin English - I could get the gist of what was being said, but often not the details), but I did not mind at all. The details of the lives of the Okoli side of the book seemed familiar, as they did in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (the quirks of the elites do seem remarkably similar in Nigeria and Uruguay). But what was most fascinating were the details of Ada’s life… how a young Lagos professional who’s only just starting out would live. Things like her sharing a room with a friend in a large house, or the struggles of working in a local company, run in the local way, influenced by the local culture. All this made this a book worth reading for me.
Finally, I really should mention the writing and editing. They weren't great. The writing is plain, sometimes a bit clumsy (e.g. when the author goes on about exactly what music the characters are listening to), but it was readable. I didn’t mind that a lot, but I did mind that there were quite a lot of mistakes. Not enough to drive me crazy, but definitely enough to notice. A lot of those were just things a basic copy-edit should have sorted out, too. A shame.
MY GRADE: A C+.