Cover Image: Vagabonds!

Vagabonds!

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There were some interesting insights into the hidden under-belly of Lagos and some moving stories but I found it hard to maintain focus and find a coherent whole.
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VAGABONDS! is a novel of intertwined short stories that center the lives of vagabonds in Nigeria. The Nigerian definition of vagabonds references language codified into law that punishes the queer, trans, poor and sex workers.

I really enjoyed this one, the prose was so lyrical and really flowed. The stories were moving and, at times, read almost like a collection of folk lores and twisted fairy tales. I switched between physical and audio for this one and the audio definitely enhanced my experience.

This is also definitely one that I will be rereading as there is so much going on and so much to unearth in the prose that I'm sure I missed some of the nuance which I look forward to finding in a second read.

Thank you @4thestatebooks for my review copy.
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The multiple narratives were well-written and the few overlaps very interesting, and I loved theme of forbidden living in Nigeria. However, somehow this book felt like it needed to be tighter and a little more focused.
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a case of it wasn't you it was me. I wanted to adore Vagabonds but the sporadic nature of the stories felt more like a collection than a novel to me, and because of the disparate nature of the different themes I was never able to settle into the characters or a narrative.
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A weird, impressive whirlwind of a book about 'vagabonds' - mostly queer women - living under the radar in a magical realist Lagos. Much of the book is brilliant, fresh and lively and beautifully told, but a few chapters - and most of the denouement - are flattened through trying to be too instructional/overt.
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This book is a wild ride through the underside of Lagos, the one-time capital of Nigeria, with vaguely interconnected stories told through a number of shifting characters who are themselves seen through the ‘eye’ of the city and its spirit, Eko.

The context for the action is the 2014 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act – an appalling piece of legislation in the 21st-century that prohibits a whole range of behaviours which would be quite normal in any other major city. Driving these ‘non-normal’ relationships underground is additionally bizarre in Nigeria with its long history of criminal gangs, corrupt politicians and financial fraud at every level of society. Worse still, ‘normal’ heterosexual, married relationships in the country are frequently anything but normal being rooted in misogyny, brutality and sometimes witchcraft. It’s not a good place to be a woman and not much better if you are a man.

So, the characters in this novel live concealed lives or flourish in safe corners of the underground and, here, the city helps them with a kind of sliding version of reality, aided and abetted by spirits, curses and whatever, then additionally fuelled by drugs and alcohol.

The stories are loosely connected and were originally published at different times but this is much more than just a collection of short stories and it draws you in to the lives of the characters. The description is vivid, colourful and crackling with spirit.

Some of the characters stay with you, including Johnny who learns, literally, to keep his mouth shut and finally closes it forever. There is also Wura Blackson, dressmaker and confidante of the rich and famous.

It’s an entertaining novel and optimistic in terms of the capacity of the human spirit not just to survive but to thrive in times of oppression.
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A beautiful collection of Nigerian stories exploring the 'outsiders' in society. This book is like nothing I have ever read before. The writing style is very poetic and took me a while to get used to so I decided to also grab the audiobook which was incredible and completely immersed me into the rhythm of the language, I became thoroughly absorbed in the vivid city of Lagos. Told through slight interconnecting stories, it highlights marginalised and underrepresented people, particularly those who are queer, poor, young and generally taken advantage of in a capitalist and corrupt Nigeria. 

The heart of the story is about money (Owo) and how much it impacts living in Lagos (Èkó), the violence and control it has over people both those with and without it. It’s incredibly thought provoking, beautifully written as it wonderfully explores identity and the solemnity of being an outsider. As is the case with short story collections, some I liked more than others. My favourites stories were, Tatafo (Democrazy!),  Rain, Overheard: Fairygodgirls and After God, Fear Women but I definitely want to go back and reread them all again. 

If you want to discover Nigeria through a lens you've likely never read before, pick up this book!
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Time passes. Gods control and are controlled. People suffer. This is a story of Nigeria; a story of its cities. It is a story of its people; especially its queer and marginalised. It's a satire of corruption. It's a poem of a nation and a love story to its vagabonds. (People who suffer under Nigeria's anti-gay legislation).
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I really loved some of the stories in Vagabonds but it they didn't quite coalesce into a whole for me. It was a bit too dreamlike in places and I found I couldn't remember which characters were which when they reappeared. I'm glad to have read it though and would definitely look out for more short fiction by the author.
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This is one of those loose limbed short story collections, which occasionally loops back on itself and has a central spine around being about Lagos, Nigeria. Its aim is to paint a picture of a vibrant city, to tie in folklore, the living and the dead, the current atmosphere and magical realism to try to build a loving if critical portrait of the fastest growing city in Africa - a City Symphony to borrow the term from silent cinema. A pre-pandemic picture perhaps (not that pandemics bother cities like Lagos in the scheme of things, there are plenty of daily health catastrophes to take care of), which takes a city as part of its world, though Eloghosa Osunde does have particular themes she returns to - in particular death and queerness which mark this as a very individual work.

As part of the many, sharp, introductions to Vagabonds! Osunde both defines her subjects and her object, the city that is "na Lagos - Èkó". Èkó is the spirit of the city, the gossip, the half-truths, the hypocrite. ANd whilst I am not sure she believes in an upstand and respectable side of Lagos, she certainly is interested in the Vagabonds! This is a book with an exclaimation mark in its title, and Vagabonds both shares its usual meaning with a particualrly Nigerian meaning - of both cross-dressing and latterly those who may commit gross indecency, or in this case acts which are against the law but everyone knows happens. We dip in and out of these kinds of situations, well born girls who would rather live normally than happily, sex workers and dancers in secret clubs with in clubs for wealthy women. Particularly in the back half of the book this becomes not just a celebration of the city, but of how gay it is if you choose to see it. Whilst she doesn't shy aware from the potential consequences of queerness, she also makes a parallel early on to everyone and everything bending and breaking the law constantly. Who is going to be scared of that law in particular? The police - who do not turn up much here (not the kind of Vagabonds we are after) are seen to be as performative as everything else, laws bend and break mainly to line a pocket rather than to follow the path of good. 

There is lots of magical realism going on here as well around death, both what happens and how spirits may continue to haunt the city. Some of this death is actual, some is figurative - those shunned by family are as dead as the ghosts trying to work out how to haunt the city. This is not an unusual tactic when talking about cities - places build up memories which are ghostly, though Osunde is good at using the local folklore whilst explaining it to outsiders. In other places she is gung ho - spoken language isn't quite pidgin, but is written with a local flavour - as she does when talking from Èkó or Tatafo's perspective. 

Its clear that Vagabonds! started life as a number of short stories, and whilst a pretty good job has been done to corral them into the shaggy shape the Èkó requires, the quality and interest will vary between them. But there is a strong central voice through the heart of it, along with a vibrant sense of humour that makes the whole thing sing. And it succeeds at doing what it sets out to do - it conjures up a skeleton of the city, dancing, fleshy bit where needed, not respectable, but full of the mischief of trying to wring some joy out of getting by.
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Virtually impossible to describe this book. Chaotic, strange yes but also thought provoking, intelligent and powerful. The language takes a bit of getting used to but it would definitely not have the same power if written in "standard English". Set in Nigeria, a country I have heard a lot about, mostly negative the book tells you so much more about the country and its people. Fascinating read and I have to say I really enjoyed it. Stick with the language, it sounds strange at first but it makes the book. Several lines in the book really resonated with me and I am from a completely different culture and background. Just shows how mighty is the written word
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i really wanted to love this but i found the storytelling a bit messy. there were some good ideas and themes but the execution was rather clumsy. still i'd recommend this to others as ymmv.
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I absolutely loved the writing. It was so deeply Nigerian, more specifically Lagosian, a melting pot of cultural lingo. It uses Nigerian lingo, from popular TV shows, social media and political propaganda. I honestly felt like I was 'gisting' with my friend as I read this book. The writing was so easy for me to fall into.
Vagabonds! is a collection of short stories that explore the bustling city of Lagos with an in-depth look into the lives of people within different socioeconomic classes. With Tatafo (basically what we call people who either cannot keep a secret or always seem to know what is going on around them) as our guide, we get to see not just the spirituality of Lagos (embodied in this story as Èkó; which is the Yoruba name of Lagos); but also the empowered but disenfranchised youth; the powerful who use their power to oppress and disenfranchise; and the unrecognised (the queer, the sex workers; the orphans).
I loved how Eloghosa was able to present a microscopic view of each precious life that is beaten down and oppressed by the corruption and insidious nature of Nigeria capitalism and spirituality.
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I really enjoyed this once I got into the rhythm of the authors writing. Interesting and insightful and I would love to read more from this author.
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Taking us through the underbelly of society, and the people who get trapped there at times, this book was an interesting exploration of queer lives in Nigeria, with myths and tales woven into its fabric.

The story is at times intentionally hard to follow, as spirits slip in and out of characters and most people around are disconcerted, but I thought it was an enjoyable and clever read.

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Kaleidoscopic, propulsive, sexy and tender - Osunde's prose crackles with energy and unexpected images, and the ending is genuinely joyful (and feels entirely earned!).
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There’s no single narrative in Vagabonds!, the debut novel by Nigerian writer Eloghosa Osunde. There’s no hero, no standard plot arc. The novel is like life: teeming, diverse, sometimes chaotic and shapeless, and yet its disparate strands are linked and bound together in ways that are not obvious at first.

It’s a novel set mostly in Lagos, and the city itself is a character in the novel too, a mythical, godlike character who stands above everything and everyone—except the single all-powerful entity who is above even the city itself: money.

Vagabonds! is structured as a series of stories that seem at first unconnected. These stories introduce us to a large and diverse set of characters, mostly marginalised people who are struggling to survive and thrive in the competitive, cut-and-thrust, often callous but sometimes surprisingly connected world of the city.

The stories effortlessly blend myth and reality, the living and the dead. Ghosts and shapeshifters are a fact of life, and characters pass constantly between worlds. All of this happens not just for literary high-jinks, but for a very important reason that Daisy, a lesbian woman in one of the stories, explains:

    “We’re ghosts because we have to be, because our lives depend on passing and being passed by. But we’re ghosts who see other ghosts often, who hold them and hug them and fuck them, too, in our bedrooms, doors closed.”

The book opens with a set of definitions of the word “vagabond”. Some will be familiar to international readers, but others will not—at least, they were new to me. In Nigeria, the word refers to people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. Being a vagabond is illegal. Vagabonds must constantly change shape and form in order to survive.

You could read this as a short story collection, and it would still work because the individual stories are so strong and beautifully written. But it’s also more than that—as you read further into the book, you start to see characters recurring, connections forming. The book never coalesces into anything like a traditional novel, but still, those connections do form a story of sorts, a beautiful and horrifying picture of a city and the people who live at its margins.

Vagabonds are made not just from gender or sexual identity but also from poverty. Often, they run into harshness and cruelty at the hands of the rich, the privileged, the ones whose loves and lives are legal. They must hide who they are, go mute, face violence.

They often find solace in each other, but sometimes they find unexpected kindness and understanding from others too. There’s the beautiful story of Gold and her mother:

    “Gold was only still here, alive, because she had a mother who asked, ‘What do you want for yourself, my child?’ and listened when she answered, after all. A mother who saw how un-at-home Gold was in her old body, asked, ‘What is your real name?’ and then believed Gold immediately. Life is different with a mother who listens and believes; a parent who welcomes you when you take yourself home to meet her for the first time; who lets a dead name go quietly into the ground.”

Gold’s mother may accept who she is, but the wider society doesn’t. Gold, like so many other vagabonds, is illegal, facing fourteen years in jail for being who she is. But unlike so many of the others, she has her mother alongside her, supporting her. As Gold’s best friend F. says, “But it shouldn’t be rare. Us being loved shouldn’t be rare. What you felt today, is how it should be.”

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I loved this book! At first, I thought the fractured nature of the narrative might make it hard to read, but it wasn’t. Each story was compelling on its own, and they all add up to something much more.

There’s a story in Vagabonds! in which a group of fairygodgirls put a book in the hands of the person who needs it at that particular moment in their lives. This book could be exactly that book for some readers, the kind of book that tells them, in Eloghosa Osunde’s words, “You will be strange, but you won’t be strange alone.” Even if it’s not that book for you, it will still be well worth reading. It’s startlingly original, full of energy and life, shocking in some places and inspiring in others.
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It took me a little while to adjust to the rhythm of Vagabonds! but once I did, I was happy to be taken along for the ride. I love the exclamation mark in the title – it gives an idea of the book’s vivacity, its playfulness. But it deals with serious subjects – violence against women, rich vs poor, and the persecution of queer people since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill was passed in Nigeria in 2014.
Lagos is a megacity, a complete world in itself. And that’s just when you consider the living… What if the dead were not just lying in their graves, if they still had agency and a role to play in the world? Might that redress the balance in an unfair place? If only.
It would be easy for Vagabonds! to feel disjointed, jumping as it does from one story to another. That it doesn’t is, I think, an indication of how good the writing is. Much as it is about Lagos, there are things that apply much more widely (I was particularly struck by a passage about money and laws). The only problem with there being stories of so many people is that I wanted to stay with some of them longer.
I’m definitely warming to magical realism. When the writing is good, it’s good, whatever the subject. Eloghosa Osunde’s description of the devil inhabiting different people is chilling. There’s definitely more going on than I could fathom in one reading but please take that as a recommendation – it’s worth coming back to.
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Awesome read, I loved it. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.
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ELOGHOSA OSUNDE – VAGABONDS ****

I read this novel in advance of publication through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

In more ways than one, this is not an easy read. The writer is an award-winning young Nigerian writer and visual artist. Set in modern Nigeria, the writing is dense and profound, the dialogue often in dialect, using words which were unfamiliar to me. The story too is difficult, told from the point of view of lesbian women in a country where all but the richest women have no standing, and lesbians have to hide themselves away. 

I couldn’t begin to describe the overall story. Capitalism, corruption and oppression are tackled in equal measures. Suffice to say I highlighted many beautifully written poetical and thought-provoking passages – more than any other book I have read recently but they are too abstract to comment on in a review. 

If you are up for a book that makes you think, and be grateful for the life you have, and admiration for the resilience of the human spirit, then this is the book for you.
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