The Strangers of Braamfontein by Nigerian novelist Onyeka Nwelue was published on August 26 by Abibiman Publishing (UK). The novel explores the travails of life as an immigrant in an African city.
The novel tells the story of Osas a young Nigerian painter who comes to Johannesburg full of hopes that his life will change for the better. Coming from a life of abject poverty in a small Nigerian city, Johannesburg was supposed to be an escape. Instead, it engulfs him in the underworld of organized crime. Set in the Johannesburg suburb of Braamfontein, the novel details a community of African immigrants pitted against one anoother, desperate for the good life and going to unspeakable length to get that life: from drug dealing to human trafficking. The novel features a colorful and sprawling cast of characters, each motivated by the dictates of a world where survival is in deed for the fittest.
Though Osas is the center of the story, he connects the vast tapestry of characters through which Nwelue depicts the stark realities of the dispossessed of an African city. One of the striking features of the novel is the pan-African array of characters who are drawn from various African nationalities: Nigeria, Malawi, the Congo, Zimbabwe, and many more.
Another striking feature of the novel is that it is written extensively in Nigerian pidgin English. In a recent essay, Nwelue explains why:
When I was writing The Strangers of Braamfontein, I felt the need to recreate original characters and very unique people, so it was imperative that I used genuine dialects and voices to portray these characters and tell this story. If there was a certain way that Nigerians speak, I thought there was the need to portray that in its uniqueness.
Some of the themes the book addresses are corruption, poverty, and issues surrounding immigrant life in contemporary South Africa. Readers interested in crime fiction and books that address inequalities and ongoing issues in post-apartheid South Africa will enjoy this thriller set in Johannesburg.
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“Osas is a young and impressionable Nigerian painter, who escapes poverty and hardship in Benin City, into the chaotic and crime-ridden belly of Johannesburg, through the help of a travel agent. But to survive, he must live a life of adventure and spontaneity and criminality. As Osas walks through the corners of Braamfontein, a suburb of Johannesburg, he encounters the Nigerian Janus-faced Chike, the Zimbabwean Machiavellian Chamai, the pawky Papi, the duplicitous Ruth, the saavy April and the fiendish Detectives Jiba and Booysen, leading to a bolt from the blue. The Strangers of Braamfontein follows the lives of immigrants: the Nigerian drug-dealers, assassins, prostitutes, scammers, cultists, the Ethiopian human traffickers, the Congolese kidnappers, down to the Zimbabwean male-to-male prostitutes and drunks, the Malawian forgers, Angolan and Francophone syndicates, down to the South African blackmailers and gangs. Laced with Nigerian and South African ethos, the sights and sounds of Braamfontein are subtly painted in this narrative of well-orchestrated and stereotyped characters.”