An Interactive Guide

Staying Good vs. Giving In

Lagos from the skyThe Lagosian KeysThe Nigerian Eyo Festival

In the novel Swallow, Tolani and her best friend Rose are two young women in the 1980s who must balance their morals against the fast-paced, rough-and-tumble life in Lagos, Nigeria's largest, most populous city. Secretaries in a bank, they often find themselves struggling, sometimes unsuccessfully, to make an honest living there.

A prolific novelist and playwright, author Sefi Atta brings these pages to vivid life with humor and the rhythms of Lagosian speech while documenting the serious challenges of life in urban West Africa. As that nation's former capital and its largest port, Lagos is portrayed as sprawling, corrupt, chaotic, and sometimes deadly.  Despite the nation's oil wealth, its workers are often left scrambling for food, transport and housing, if they play it straight. For women, marriage is seen as a way out, the more attractive of few options.

The title is a reference to the drug trade, another option for making ends meet. And yet, the city continues to be a destination for young people who stream from their villages in search of something bigger and better than the lives they leave behind.

Fela KutiKing Sunny AdeNigerian meat pieA Yoruban adire cloth

Cultural Links

Take a walk through Rose's and Tolani's world:

Nightlife in LagosRush hour in LagosNigerian refinery fire


Young Women's Stories:
Related Reading and Viewing

The books and films listed here tell the stories of young people in the developing world facing tough choices as they struggle towards a better future. Ask at your neighborhood library, or visit our online catalog to see which are available in audio, video, large print or as e-books.

The Girl With The Golden Shoes book coverAncestor Stones book coverZenzele book coverBeasts of No Nation book cover


The Girl With The Golden Shoes by Colin Channer
Ancestor Stones by Aminatti Forna
Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire 
Mamzelle Dragonfly by Raphael Confiant
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

Desert Flower DVD coverMaria Full of Grace DVD coverSkin DVD coverYesterday DVD cover

Desert Flower, directed by Sherry Hormann
Maria Full of Grace, directed by Joshua Marston
Skin, directed by Anthony Fabian
The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles
Yesterday, directed by Darrell Roodt
Courting Justice, directed by Jane Thandi Lipman

Reading Group Guides

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