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Swallow
Sefi Atta

published 2010 • 5 1/4" x 8" • 296 pages
ISBN 9781566568333 • paperback • $15.00

A new novel from the winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature

It is the mid-1980s in Lagos, Nigeria, and the government's War against Indiscipline is in full operation. Amid poverty and tight rules and regulations, women especially must sacrifice dignity and safety in order to find work and peace. Tolani Ajao is a secretary working at Federal Community Bank. A succession of unfortunate events leads Tolani's roommate and volatile friend Rose to persuade her to consider drug trafficking as an alternative means of making a living. Tolani's struggle with temptation forces her to reconsider her morality and that of her mother, Arike; Swallow weaves the stories of the two women intricately together in a vivid, unforgettable portrayal of Tolani's turbulent journey of self-discovery.

Sefi Atta's first novel, Everything Good Will Come, won the Wole Soyinke Prize for Literature in Africa. Her short-story collection News from Home received the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. Both are available from Interlink Books.


Media Reviews
"No contemporary Nigerian writer is better than Sefi Atta at evoking the smells, sounds and the sheer madness of this sprawling cosmopolitan city of Lagos."
—Toni Kan Onwordi, author of 'Nights of the Creaking Bed'

"Tender, fierce, vivid and memorable-a bold, distinctive novel from a writer who doesn't compromise her integrity."
—Leila Aboulela, author of 'Minaret'

"In this unique novel, outstanding new literary talent Sefi Atta takes great strides in style and form, to bring wit and passion to the heartbreaking story of Tolani and Rose, two young women struggling, not always successfully, to make an honest living in contemporary Nigeria... Atta tells in an eminently readable voice the irreconcilable nature of the two friends' fates."
—Tsitsi Dangarembga, author of 'Nervous Conditions'

"Sefi Atta has woven a quietly intricate powerful tale that pulls from problems of gender, class, and Lagosian life. It's a novel whose many colorful characters, compelling story, distinct place and turbulent time will stay with you long after you've read the last word."
—Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, author of 'Zahrah the Windseeker'

"The bustle, chaos and fast rhythm of Lagos jump from the pages of 'Swallow', Sefi Atta's new book. It is fiction steeped in life."
—Veronique Tadjo, author of 'As the Crow Flies'

"Sefi's 'Swallow' is a triumph of the terse. It throbs with laconic intelligence and the veritable Sefi Atta denouement."
—Tade Ipadeola, author of A 'Time of Signs'

"In Swallow, Mississippi-based Sefi Atta travels the distance to 1980s Lagos, Nigeria, where she grew up, to offer a picture of how gender oppression reproduces itself over time through the imposed act of swallowing. ...Atta makes the act of forcing oneself to swallow the unswallowable, the deadly, vivid in the body of the reader."
make/shift

“Recommended Reading… Sefi Atta’s Swallow wakes up in dusty, hazy Lagos and sets its sights on Rose and Tolani, a pair of young women whose intertwined fates argue the power of matrilineal ties in modern Africa…the girls live the slim privileges of the employed—in a city whose poverty, government crackdowns, and quick, senseless losses lend the novel an apocalyptic air. Against this stark backdrop, Rose and narrator Tolani emerge as two halves of a butterflied Rorschach blot: nearly identical, but with one side webbed and shadowed, the other precise, distinct. What sets them apart is their people—more particularly, the women who buoy them up: Rose’s hedging, prostituting, city-clinging mother and half-sisters, and Tolani’s village-tied mother, the last of a matriarchal adire-dying, husband-defying line. As the novel’s tragic action draws both young women into desperate attempts to evade poverty, this familial distinction grows all the more significant…stark and elegant, but warmly humorous and lively… For both women, it seems, the greatest fear is the loss of the other, which would equal a loss of the self. Atta’s skillful handling is a relief and a gift.”
—Books and Culture, A Christian Review



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