Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
People of the City
by Cyprian Ekwensi, introduction by Emmanuel Iduma
When Chinua Achebe became the editor of the legendary Heinemann African Writers Series, one of the first books he chose was a collection of stories by Cyprian Ekwensi. People of the City, Ekwensi’s early masterpiece, is the tale of Amusa Sango, a young man who travels from the country to a great and crazy city that is not named but might well be taken for Lagos, where he means to make a career as a crime reporter for the never less than sensational West African Sensation while leading a dance band whose calypsos and konkomas “delight the heart of city women.” Amusa is a man on the make, looking for stories, success, sex, maybe even love, and he finds a lot of what he’s looking for, though whether he can hold on to what he has and get what he wants is another story altogether. Ekwensi’s delicious novel has the swagger, bravado, and elation of the great bands of West Africa.
Electric. . . . Ekwensi paints a vivid picture of cultural cacophony in a modernizing Nigeria filled with colonizers, revolutionaries, dreamers, and schemers. The mesmerizing tale and its feckless, frustrating protagonist provide stark glimpses into the class struggles, misogyny, and violence that often lurk beneath a bustling metropolis.
Lagos was a central character in much of Ekwensi’s fiction, portrayed with undertones of the noir thriller, his episodic style mirroring the urgency and restlessness of the city. His lower-middle-class characters . . . are stripped naked in public, confront nasty landlords, battle inane bureaucracies, have pepper put into their vaginas, die of political violence, seduce powerful politicians, commit murder-suicides and contract sexually transmitted diseases; one senses verisimilitude in Ekwensi’s unabashed melodrama. . . . The women did a lot of hip-swinging but they were often wonderfully bold.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Guardian
Ekwensi saw [Nigeria’s] contradictions more clearly than most. And he was unusual, at least among what we might call the first generation of Nigerian writers, in not merely depicting women as people in their own right, with their own wants and desires, but being unafraid to explore the kind of power they can exert over men. . . . He also remains the most cosmopolitan, the most at ease with exploring the ‘existential loss’ that is the modern Nigerian condition.
—Adewale Maja-Pearce, The Baffler
People of the City tells the story of a young crime reporter who doubles as a bandleader in a large west African city. As one British critic wrote, the novel said more about west Africa than 50 government reports.
—Shola Adenekan, The Guardian
One of the most prolific African writers of the twentieth century.
Throughout the novel, Ekwensi critiques are electric, his narrative is mesmerizing. As such, People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.
—Elisabeth Woronzoff, PopMatters