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by Sefi Atta
Reviewed by Darryl Morris

The Nigerian author Sefi Atta will be familiar to close readers of Belletrista; her first novel, Everything Good Will Come, the winner of the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, was reviewed in issue 3. Her second book, News From Home, a collection of 10 short stories and a novella, was awarded the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The stories involve the lives of contemporary Nigerians living within the country or abroad in the United States or Britain. According to a recent interview with Atta, the events that occur in these stories are based on newspaper reports, and the characters are based on personal acquaintances or people she has heard or read about. Although she has lived in the United States for over a decade, Atta travels frequently to Nigeria and is closely linked to the Nigerian expatriate community in her home state of Mississippi.

Several stories concern the lives of women in rural Nigeria who try to survive daily life under Sharia, the sacred law of Islam, which is misused by fundamentalists to oppress and dehumanize women and those who do not follow its strict edicts. Men are allowed to take multiple wives, and to physically and sexually abuse them without fear of retribution or condemnation. In the story "Hailstones on Zambara", a woman trapped in such a marriage finds solace in an affair with a man who respects her, while her husband finds pleasure with a new Junior Wife. "Spoils" concerns a village girl who turns against her best friend who dreams of traveling to Lagos and becoming an independent, educated woman.

The longer stories in the middle section of the book, which concern students and middle class Nigerians, are the most fully realized and rewarding of the collection. "Lawless" is narrated by a university student, orphaned when his family is murdered by bandits, who puts on unsuccessful community theatrical performances along with his fellow classmates. He permits a woman who has been exiled from her prosperous family to move into his parents' house; she writes plays for the raggedy and starving troupe, and encourages them to put on a grand performance, a robbery of her wealthy sister. In the title story, "News From Home", a young nurse agrees to move from Nigeria to work as a caretaker for the children of two Nigerian doctors living in New Jersey. She is torn between her own dreams to become a nurse in the United States, her responsibilities to her employers, and her mother back home, who is involved in protests against the Western oil company in the Niger Delta that refuses to hire local townspeople for anything other than menial and degrading positions.

The collection ends with the novella "Yahoo Yahoo", a story about a young boy who is encouraged by a friend to participate in online scams in Internet cafes.

Atta provides the reader with a rich portrait of Nigerians of all backgrounds, in and outside of the country. The stories are unique to Nigeria and its people, yet the themes of assimilation, cultural isolation, and separation from family and friends have a broader application and appeal. Other writers, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Pettina Gappah, have covered the same territory in their recent short story collections. However, Atta does not simply follow in their footsteps. Her characters are flawed, not overly sympathetic or tragic, and, in keeping with real life, there are no easy resolutions to their dilemmas. I am looking forward to reading Atta's next book, Swallow, a novel set in mid-1980s Lagos narrated by a mother and her daughter caught up in the government's War Against Indiscipline; it will be published in the US in September 2010.