Deola Bello is a Nigerian expatriate in London, working as a financial reviewer for an international charity. At the age of thirty-nine, she is becoming increasingly restless with both her work and her personal life. When she returns to Nigeria for work and to attend her father’s five-year memorial service, she begins to look at her life through different eyes.
As she views her family and home through a new lens, she finds herself on a journey of self-discovery. A chance encounter with a stranger ends up leading to decisions that will make her want to change her life entirely.
A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta is an incredible novel that touches on many different themes of expatriate life as well as the difference between the foreign ideas and realities of life in Africa.
This is the first book by Sefi Atta I have read and I was very impressed by her story-telling abilities. Right from the beginning, Deola jumped off the page and I really felt as though I could hear her voice, rather than just reading it.
I very much enjoy reading about different cultures and countries, especially through the eyes of an expatriate character. It is a very unique take to be able to see the country through someone who has the experience of both living there and living away from it. There wasn’t very much in Deola’s story that I could see in my own life, so what I really needed was strong writing to make me understand the world, and Atta definitely gets that right.
I particularly enjoyed the parts of the book that centred around Deola’s work at the charity. The book does spend time looking at the work that NGO’s are doing in foreign countries, the politics behind the work, and the people doing the work on both sides. There is also a lot of strength in the commentary that Atta has on Nigerian society, especially when it comes to family and culture.
There were so many moments that made me chuckle. Atta has a very keen eye for people and the little things that make them up. All of her characters were well-written and I like how she got to smaller pieces of who they are rather than the superficial things. I’m especially thinking of Deola’s writer friend in London when I mention this. The comments about what the publishing industry is looking for from African writers were clever (I captured some on my instagram account if you want to see what I’m talking about.)
The book did fall off a bit for me in the second half. I was much more interested in when Deola is in London as well as her trip back to Nigeria. Once she returned to London, I began to lose interest a bit, but it was still compelling enough for me to keep reading.
If you’re looking for African literature, I would definitely recommend this book. Its exploration of the middle class in Nigeria is something that I don’t come across in my reading all that often. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sefi Atta’s work, especially her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come, which won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.