Black Sunday marks the assured and exceptional arrival of a new literary voice; Tola Rotimi Abraham's debut is remarkable in its ambitious structure, in the characters she weaves together through this fraught dual history of family and modern urban Nigeria, as well as in the way she uses kaleidoscopic storytelling to slowly piece together her achingly realistic plot in a brilliant, refracted way
For fans of We the Animals, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, The God of Small Things, or A Kind of Freedom
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, Black Sunday unfolds over twenty years, largely from the perspectives of twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike. As such, twinning and order (first, second), and othering hold powerful places of tension in the novel, as do the universal mythologies (Christian, Yoruba, biblical, etc.) around the power inherent in twins, and the risks inherent when you try to deny (or declare) your identity as separate from another.
Abraham weaves a masterful blend of stories together (digesting, telling, and retelling family mythologies, Yoruba folktales, Old Testament parables, and remembered traumas) to build the world of her novel, to piece together the puzzle of the sisters' unraveled lives. And yet this same blend of stories (dark as they are) gives the reader a reprieve, the same way the characters might find a place of quiet or control there.
Ariyike, one of the twins, reflects, “It is a common mistake, to hear a story about tragedy and disbelieve it because the telling is off. We think to ourselves, how does the storyteller know this? We are asking the wrong question. The right question is, why is the storyteller telling me this story?" The brilliant Black Sunday—like Susan Choi's Trust Exercise or works by Jenny Offill or Rachel Cusk—is as much about the purpose and uses of storytelling itself as it is a work of narrative art
The novel also explores the messiness of family, sibling rivalry, and the role of the Christian Church (and older indigenous traditions) in modern Nigeria in the impossible separation of church and state, the roles of men and women, the shifting place of family in society there, and the race for money, power, and grace
In Black Sunday, Abraham paints you into a scene with just a few key, absorbing sentences. Yet her sense of place never feels cliche or overwrought. Lagos street markets, powerful pastors' back offices, and the bedrooms of struggling middle-class Nigerian families all come alive in devastatingly realistic detail
Acquired and edited by Catapult editor in chief Jonathan Lee, whose other debut acquisitions include Neon in Daylight, Welcome to Lagos, Rough Magic, and more
Abraham lives in Iowa City, Iowa. She will tour nationally in the United States, with an emphasis on both bookstores and libraries.
Bookseller Praise for Black Sunday
"Although this book follows four siblings over a period of twenty years in Lagos, Nigeria, the story really centers on the oldest siblings, twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike. After losing their house in a church scam and being abandoned by their parents shortly thereafter, the siblings move in with their grandmother, who initially resents their presence. The book provides four snapshots of each of their lives—to me, each of these snapshots could stand alone as a short story. I loved Tola Rotimi Abraham's writing and her insight into the bond between two sisters as they grow apart, women's struggles in a patriarchal society, and the bargaining required in order to survive when many options have been taken away." —Kate, Bookmarks, (Winston-Salem, NC)