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Monday, April 18, 2011

Swallow A Novel By Sefi Atta

Written By: Nicole Parker-Jones—It is the mid-1980s in Lagos and the government’s War Against Indiscipline and austerity measures are fully in operation. Tolani Ajao is a secretary working at Federal Community Bank. A succession of unfortunate events leads Tolani’s roommate and colleague, Rose, to consider drug trafficking as an alternative means of making a living. Tolani’s subsequent struggle with temptation forces her to reconsider her morality and that of her mother Arike’s, as she embarks on a turbulent journey of self-discovery. This sets the stage for chartered accountant and CPA turned literary talent Sefi Atta's uniquely narrated novel, Swallow.

Sefi Atta's first novel, Everything Good Will Come, won the Wole Soyinke Prize for Literature in Africa, and Swallow is also earning critical acclaim. Read an excerpt from Swallow: A Novel below.
I had to leave the flat to clear my head. My mouth tasted of palm oil. I couldn’t swallow my condom; it was the size of my thumb and as hard as a bone. What used to be my throat was now a pipe, my intestines were a drain and my stomach had become an empty portmanteau. It was as though every possible emotion had charged at me and left me flattened. I didn’t have the will or the ability to care about myself anymore, even to feel sorry for myself, and it was just as well, because the physical challenges I had to face were all that mattered now.

Rose and I were to swallow condoms of cocaine. OC said pushing them up our vaginas or packing them in our luggage was out of the question; the risk was too high. He would give us further instructions when the time was right, take us to the airport, hand us tickets and spending money. Our passports and visas would be arranged meanwhile. We would assume new identities. We were both cashiers, working for a foreign trading company and going overseas for the first time. On vacation. We were to practice by swallowing condoms filled with garri. Margarine, groundnut oil or palm oil would help us get the condoms down. Tablets for constipation would also help. If we succeeded, OC would consider us for the journey. If we spoke a word about his plan, we would both disappear. We were tough enough to follow through; Lagos had made us that tough.

We had to watch what we ate, how often we moved our bowels, and avoid being constipated. For Rose, this was difficult. She did not eat regularly. Swallowing made her vomit, but she got her condom down slightly before it came up. Mine wouldn’t go past the back of my tongue, and still I vomited. I vomited when I tried to swallow, vomited after I’d spat up. I kept heaving. I finally lay on my mattress, exhausted and watched the water stains on the ceiling. My tears ran into my ears and blocked them. I sat up and went to the bathroom to wash my face with cold water. I tried again. First I rinsed the pellet, and then I oiled it with palm oil and slipped it into my mouth.
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(Photo Credits: Book Cover Art)