Review: Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Nigerian Furo Wariboko wakes up on an otherwise ordinary morning in Lagos to discover his body has been transformed: white skin, green eyes, red hair. Furo is now a white man. Except for his butt.

But he still speaks the same languages, has the same memories, the same tastes. Inside this new skin, Furo’s still the same man he always was. Right?

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett is a Kafka-esk tale from one of Nigeria’s great young writers. It’s a brilliant, poignant satire exploring how the world changes for Furo in both expected – and unexpected – ways thanks to his new skin. There are so many questions at play here: Does the color of our skin make us who we are? Does our gender? How does the way the world treats us bring out our best and worst selves?

The morning Furo wakes up in his new skin he’s scheduled to appear for a job interview, no small feat in a country with “50% youth unemployment.” He eventually meets Syreeta, a beautiful kept woman who showers him with generosity, and Igoni, a writer who thinks there’s something strange about this white man with a Nigerian name, and does a little investigating.

But Furo goes to great length to hide the truth. The power and respect his new skin commands lets Furo see his full potential – but that same power threatens to overtake him, as he begins to see his capacity for cruelty.

There’s one slight trick with Barrett’s writing style, as he occasionally jumps his established narrative structure, then returns to fill in the pieces. Confusing in some places, this device works brilliantly with Igoni’s plotline, resulting in one of the novel’s finest moments.

It’s rare for a novel to hit on so many levels: to be funny and dramatic; to explore societal and economic disparities while also serving as a travelogue, an adventure, a philosophical meditation. Blackass does all this, and more, without coming off as disjointed or shallow. It’s a work just as at home in a PhD class or on the beach; in Lagos or in Cedar Rapids.  

Like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Barrett’s Blackass is destined to become a classic.