The Carnivorous City by Toni Kan

“Lagos is a beast with bared fangs and a voracious appetite for human flesh.”

Lagos is known for its restlessness, its hustle and rapidly growing population. It’s the economic engine of Nigeria but also humming with people trying to reach into its pockets for survival.

I’ve read quite a number of modern Nigerian literature and most of them, even the most positive and beautiful stories, have a piece that would fit with the next to create a picture of Lagos truly as a carnivorous city. This story dives into this city to show us how sharp its teeth can be.

Abel Dike is a small-town teacher whose brother Soni is a criminal turned grandee. Soni has it all – the mansions, the beautiful wife and child, the millions, the flashy cars. One day his Jag is found in a ditch with music blaring, and Soni nowhere to be seen. There is no blood, no damage, and nothing to suggest gunshots. Abel arrives in Lagos to join the search for his brother and so begins a journey that will swallow him full into the belly of Lagos.

Through the rollercoaster trip of suspects and stories, Abel still doesn’t find his brother. But while he’s searching, signing cheques for things that need to be maintained and taken care of, he’s overwhelmed by the quick change that has taken place in his life. He went from his shabby lifestyle to wearing his brother’s luxurious shoes just overnight.

This story shows the contrast between brothers, one the hero and the other a coward. The distance that can occur when close people go in separate ways. We see the character take over his brother’s life, in almost every sense and along the pages we don’t know if he really wants to find his brother or not.

The Carnivorous City has drama, seduction, betrayal, and loyalty. We witness the madness and brutality of Lagos. In Abel’s pursuit we discover how in this flesh-eating city, in the life of money and greed, trust is a “shapeshifter.” Trust is likened to quicksand and we see for ourselves as Abel meets all kinds of people that worked with and for his brother.

Kan articulates his story well, bringing the city to life and drawing a clear picture for the reader to really get in there and get a good experience. The climax can be difficult to find and when found does not really punch you in the gut. However, the plot is good enough to have you leafing through for hours. 

I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy modern African literature that is honest with its representation but does not seek sympathy for it. It’s not a poor country, poor city and its people, but rather authentic and entertainingly frank.

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