The Spider King’s Daughter is Nigerian-born Chibundu Onuzo’s debut novel, written about life in the Nigerian city of Lagos. The novel is told from the perspective of two teenagers from different social classes. First is Abike Johnson, the privileged daughter of Olumide Johnson, businessman and politician, one of the most powerful, and most rich, men in Lagos. Abike is being driven home by Hassan her driver, when she stops to buy ice cream from a hawker on the side of the road. The hawker, or as Abike thinks of him, my hawker, is eighteen and sells ice cream from a plastic sack on the side of a hot, dusty road, to support his mother and sister after his lawyer father’s death in a car accident. But before his father’s death he also had a privileged life, attending a good school and learning enough to become a successful lawyer or businessman himself.
In Lagos, Nigeria, however, there is a very fine line between having enough, and having nothing at all. And for the hawker and his family, they have been on the nothing-at-all side of the line for what seems to be forever. But the hawker, known as Runner G to his fellows at the roadside, knows there is more, and harbours a dream of finding out why his father died and if there is a way to honour his memory – other than being a hawker. When Abike stops to buy ice cream from him, an unlikely romance starts to form, with Abike flirting with the idea of dating a boy from the poor side of the fence, while the hawker wants to recapture what he has missed for so long.
However as Abike and the hawker’s relationship grows, so too does the feeling that something has been missed. The hawker starts to join the dots between his father’s death and the tragic reversals of fate suffered by his two closest friends, storekeeper Aunty Precious and one-armed beggar Mr T. Both of them have also lost their hope and heart to someone or something – could their stories all be linked? When the hawker finds himself able to turn the tables on fate and avenge all their losses, he has to decide between Abike and his family and friends. Abike, too, has to choose between what the person she was letting herself be when with the hawker, and the person that her father was grooming to be a ruthless business leader in contemporary Lagos.
A fascinating and beautifully written account of real life in Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo’s entry into writing will be one that stays in your mind long after you put it down.
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$29.99