The idea of ‘home’ is fundamental to these stories by Nigerian writer Segun Afolabi. In 17 vignettes of exile and displacement, his characters share a dread of rootlessness and a yearning to connect with their surroundings; to belong. In a world where boundaries of distance and geography are being superseded by barriers of suspicion and mutual incomprehension, belonging is not an easy trick to pull off. When the home you fled from is a place of danger and the refuge you have reached is a cold, confusing place, rejection is more likely than solace.
Afolabi gives us glimpses of lives lived against the grain, of individuals striving to adapt but unsure of what is required. It is significant that we are seldom informed directly as to the setting; the location emerges from incidental detail. Whether it is Canada, Europe or Africa, we share with the characters the certainty that we are ‘elsewhere’. ‘Monday Morning’, tells of a refugee family living in a seedy hotel, dreaming of luxury beyond their reach while their father, once a renowned chef, toils as a labourer. In ‘People You Don’t Know’, we share a couple of weeks with a teenager, sent abroad to stay with relatives following an unspecified scandal. ‘Arithmetic’ and ‘The Husband of Your Wife’s Best Friend’ are achingly authentic glimpses of middle-aged regret for the life not lived. Several stories are seen through the uncomprehending yet observant eyes of children, magnifying the sense of dislocation and bewilderment.
Segun Afolabi has an unaffected style and he has genuine affection for his characters, adrift in a hostile world. A Life Elsewhere is a fine début from a writer of talent and promise.Peter Whittaker