Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Kafka’s Gregor Samsa famously awoke one day to find himself metamorphosed into a giant insect; similarly, Furo Wariboko, the Nigerian protagonist of A. Igoni Barrett’s debut novel, falls asleep only to rise the next morning and discover that he’s become white overnight. Written a century after Kafka’s tale, Barrett sets his book—fittingly titled Blackass because the protagonist’s backside remains unchanged—in contemporary Lagos. Wariboko’s sudden, bewildering transformation spawns his subsequent alienation as he walks around the city with green eyes and red hair, but a Nigerian accent and name. His story has an important twist, a departure from Kafka’s analogous narrative that lends Barrett’s novel a modern social relevance. Although Wariboko feels isolated after his transmogrification, he soon learns that his new skin tone garners an automatic, deep-seated respect. Barrett, who has experienced a personal quest for identity as a writer in Nigeria—a journey that’s taken him from the city of Ibadan, to the farming village of Imiringi, to the literary hub of Lagos—writes satirically, in prose rich with the sights, sounds, and smells of Lagos. His work challenges the idea that identity is rooted in external factors like skin tone, yet suggests that others’ perceptions are central to framing a sense of self. A. Igoni Barrett reads at 6:30 p.m. at Busboys and Poets 14th & V, 2021 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 387-7638. busboysandpoets.com.