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The Bead Collector

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'Sefi Atta brings to exhilarating life the textures, rhythms and byzantine subtexts of this complex society. It's been a long time since I felt so powerfully immersed in a novel.'—Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs

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Wole Soyinka Prizewinning author of Everything Good Will Come recasts the international espionage tale by bringing the intrigue and politics of family life to the fore.

Lagos, January 1976, six years after the Nigerian Civil War. A new military regime has been in power for six months, but rumors are spreading that a countercoup is imminent. At an art exhibition in the affluent Ikoyi neighborhood, Remi Lawal, a Nigerian woman who runs her own greeting-card shop, meets Frances Cooke, who introduces herself as an American art dealer, in Nigeria to buy rare beads. They become friends and over the next few weeks confide in each other about their aspirations, loyalties, marriage, motherhood—and Nigeria itself, as hospitable Remi welcomes the enigmatic Frances into her world.

Remi’s husband, Tunde, naturally suspects Frances—like any American in Lagos—of gathering intelligence for the CIA, yet she is unconvinced. Cynical about the country’s unending instability, and alienated by the shallowness of the city’s elite, she willingly shares her views with Frances. But the February 13 assassination of General Muhammed prompts Remi to reconsider one particular conversation with her new acquaintance in a different light. Her discouragement overcome by a reawakened sense of patriotism, she begins to doubt that the bead collector is who she claims to be.

With her signature subtlety and wit, Sefi Atta examines a brief but profound friendship, and one Nigerian mother’s yearning—amid legacies of conflict and uncertainty—to help build her country from home.

Joanne Owen, Love Reading

16 October 2019

Witty, profound and illuminating, this will surely see its acclaimed author receive many more accolades. Our setting is Lagos, 1976, where a new military regime has been in power for six months. Amidst a politically tense atmosphere - a countercoup is anticipated – Nigerian greetings-card shop owner Remi meets Frances, an American bead collector. The two women strike up a friendship of sorts, sharing views on the likes of motherhood, politics, their cultural and personal differences. Remi’s husband is deeply suspicious of Frances, and suspects she’s a spy, a view Remi thinks is absurd until the bloody coup comes, and she worries she was wrong to trust Frances.

This immersive novel serves up many insights into Lagos life and politics, and Remi is a riveting narrator – an intelligent, intriguing woman who carries herself with composure and makes many shrewd observations about the world, from male power (“Perhaps that was why peace was unattainable. The inability of men to define what it meant to win or lose”), to the brutally simplistic approach of British colonialists (“Where were the considerations for intricacies like how our cultures and religions overlapped?”), and American self-preservation (“Everyone knew the United States picked and chose which countries to meddle with”).  I came away feeling enlightened, and entertained by Remi’s wit.

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