A Bit of Difference
Publisher: Interlink Books (Sept, 2012)
Pages: 224 pages
At thirty-nine, Deola Bello, a Nigerian expatriate in London, is dissatisfied with being single and working overseas. Deola works as a financial reviewer for an international charity, and when her job takes her back to Nigeria in time for her father’s five-year memorial service, she finds herself turning her scrutiny inward. In Nigeria, Deola encounters changes in her family and in the urban landscape of her home, and new acquaintances who offer unexpected possibilities. Deola’s journey is as much about evading others’ expectations to get to the heart of her frustration as it is about exposing the differences between foreign images of Africa and the realities of contemporary Nigerian life. Deola’s urgent, incisive voice captivates and guides us through the intricate layers and vivid scenes of a life lived across continents. With Sefi Atta’s characteristic boldness and vision, A Bit of Difference limns the complexities of our contemporary world. This is a novel not to be missed.
“An American successor to classic Nigerian literature.” – Publishers Weekly starred review
“The novel’s momentum comes from Atta’s delicate prose and from the wry sense of humor she gives Deola. The book, among other things is a novel about novels: in several scenes, Deola and her friend Bandele lament the fact that stories from Africa that reach foreign audiences are uniformly tragic. “More death, the better,” as Bandele says. Atta’s quietly funny novel is clearly intended as a corrective to this trend.” – The New Yorker
“It’s rare to come across a novel so devoid of artifice and literary pyrotechnics as Nigerian-born, American-dwelling Sefi Atta’s A Bit of Difference; rarer to find so stripped down a work as compelling as this one; and rarer still, perhaps, to find an “African novel” that one can’t praise for its larger-than-life exoticism and bold, colourful, rhythmic writing...It should come as no surprise that Atta’s also a playwright, because much of the novel is conversation between characters and she demonstrates a skilful control of the narrative, managing the pace and delivery perfectly. Everything about this novel is real and tangible; it’s a truthful and deeply thoughtful portrait of the contemporary African diaspora – corruption, crime, bigotry, Aids and malaria versus cultural disassociation and ingrained, but ignored, racism.” – Lucy Scholes, The National
“At the heart of the novel is a central character who readers will warm to; in less able hands, the privileged Deola’s slight melancholy might be dismissed as self-indulgence or churlishness but instead it she elicits her empathy, as Atta perfectly hones in on the emptiness which so often epitomises modern life with its emphasis on the individual; the overall effect is a pithy analysis of contemporary Nigeria and a character you will want things to work out well for.” – Lynette Lisk, The Royal African Society
“Atta brilliantly evokes a world just on the brink of major change; her writing is intelligent, witty and controlled.” – The Times
“A shrewd, quietly fearless and often witty novel that triumphantly succeeds in being both politically thought-provoking and emotionally engaging.” – The Daily Mail
“Atta hones a distinctive voice to tell a memorable if uneven story about the quest to preserve uniqueness faced with pressure to conform.” – The Observer
“Character is one of Atta's strongest points as a writer – each character, even the most fleeting, has a story, a mannerism that stays with the reader.” – Helon Habila, The Guardian
“Atta’s splendid writing sizzles with wit and compassion. This is an immensely absorbing book.” – Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street
“An up-close portrait of middle-class Nigeria exploring the boundaries of morals and public decorum. Pitched between humor and despair, with stripped-down, evocative prose, A Bit of Difference bristles with penknife-sharp dialogue, but its truths are more subtle, hiding in the unspoken. Ultimately, A Bit of Difference explores – with a hint of mischief–the problem of how to look like you have no problems when you have abundant problems–the universal problem of the socially-motivated classes.” – Nii Parkes, author of Tail of the Blue Bird
“Sefi Atta's prose is as clear as water and just as vital. This novel of complex psychologies speaks at close range in a near whisper. Writers of casually accomplished novels rarely need to shout.” – Colin Channer, author of Waiting In Vain and The Girl with the Golden Shoes
The great ones capture you. This one is illuminated and magnified. It is a photograph of an African woman with desert terrain behind her. She might be Sudanese or Ethiopian. It is hard to tell. Her hair is covered with a yellow scarf and underneath her image is a caption: “I Am Powerful.”
An arriving passenger at the Atlanta airport momentarily obscures the photograph. She has an Afro, silver hoops the size of bangles in her ears and wears a black pin-striped trouser suit. She misses the name of the charity the photograph advertises and considers going back to get another look, but her legs are resistant after her flight from London and her shoulder is numb from the weight of her handbag and laptop.
She was on the plane for nine hours and someone behind her suffered from flatulence. The Ghanaian she sat next to fell silent once she mentioned she was Nigerian. At Immigration, they photographed her face and took prints of her left and right index fingers. She reminded herself of the good reasons why as she waited in the line for visitors, until an Irish man in front of her turned around and said, “This is a load of bollocks.” She only smiled. They might have been on camera and it was safe for him, despite the skull tattoos on his arm.
I am powerful, she thinks. What does that mean? Powerful enough to grab the attention of a passerby, no doubt.