Savannah Burley, Hallie Edic, Iris Kahris, Kathleen McCarey, Marie Naudus
Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Lagoon, takes place in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Okorafor blends many Nigerian traditions into her work and makes the setting a key focal point in the narrative. In the novel, garden eggs are mentioned frequently and come to be an integral piece of the conclusion. Garden eggs are a type of eggplant popular in African countries. Additionally, “garden egg is used as a less expensive meat substitute because its spongy texture allows it to absorb other flavors, similar to meat” (Mangan). The garden egg is significant to many African cultures, it is often shared at special events and given as gifts as they represent fertility, friendship, respect and are a sign of a welcoming community. When Adaora is trying to make her new extraterrestrial friend, Ayodele, feel welcomed in her home, she discovers that her new companion enjoys garden eggs specifically. Adaora notes how “Ayodele had eaten every scrap of food Adaora placed before her… commenting the entire time how enjoyable it all was” (38). When Adaora questions Ayodele about if the food was satisfactory, Ayodele specifically notes her pleasure in consuming the garden eggs. In later scenes, Ayodele can be found enjoying the vegetable. In mid conversation, Adaora describes how Ayodele was “happily munching on a garden egg” (42). Ayodele is new to culture in Lagos, but already is attached to the local cuisine. The garden eggs in the novel first operate as a way for Ayodele and Adaora to grow their friendship and later are used as a way to show how the novel operates under the terms of apocalyptic fiction.
Our Black Apocalyptic Fiction class is centered around novels that connect to apocalyptic ideas. When examining how Lagoon fits into this category, it is important to first define apocalypse. Commonly, apocalypses are defined as, “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.” However, in relation to this course, our class has defined an apocalypse as the complete, final destruction of the world. In the novel, multiple characters discuss the events that are happening around Ayodele as the apocalypse. When Fisayo witnesses the video of Ayodele addressing the Lagos community, she thinks: “this is the rapture, the apocalypse, the end” (129). Fisayo cannot wrap her mind around what is happening and assumes that it is the sign that the world is coming to an end. However, Agu has a differing way of comprehending the event. When his cousin questions him about whether he thinks “‘this is the end of days,’” Agu responds with a hard “‘no’” (151). Despite whether or not the characters view the events as apocalyptic, the clear destruction of the city, alien invasion, riots, and monsters coming to the surface, it is clear that this novel falls under the genre of apocalyptic fiction.
By the end of Lagoon, it is clear that garden eggs become a crucial part of the plot and can connect directly to how the novel operates under the genre of apocalyptic fiction. Our class discussion, which defines apocalypse as the destruction of a world, can fit into the novel by the way in which Ayodele’s death brings about a vast change in the civilians of Lagos, destroying their notions of the original world and creating something new. When Ayodele is dying in Adaora’s arms, the alien musters the strength to speak to her friend: “‘You people need help on the outside but also within… I will go within… Adaora… let go of me’” (268). Ayodele enacts change in the world that Adaora knows. She relates how they will “‘all be a bit… alien’” before she slowly dies, using her final breath to state simply: “‘Garden eggs. Nothing better’” (268). Ayodele dies thinking of a happy moment: eating garden eggs. Garden eggs have made a great impact on her and connect her to her friend, Adaora, who shared the vegetable with her originally. After Ayodele’s death, Adaora notes “a faint tomatoey scent of… garden eggs” and was “overcome with a craving for garden eggs” (269). Ayodele’s spirit enters into all the people of Lagos, forever becoming a part of them. In this sense, Ayodele can be seen at the katechon for the apocalypse. The katechon withholds the apocalypse and has positive connotations. In the Andrew Santana Kaplan article, “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” Kaplan defines the katechon as “the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world” (80). It is Ayodele’s mission to stop the destruction she sees happening in Lagos. Lagos needs change due to the people and government destroying themselves. With this understanding, the thing that is destroying the world is not the aliens like would be commonly thought, but the Lagos government and people themselves. Ayodele sees the way in which the people of Lagos are destroying themselves, and in order to put a stop to this destruction, she places a piece of her soul into each individual in the city. Adaora credits Ayodele and her people “‘being catalysts of change. Wherever they go, they bring change’” (158). Adaora views Ayodele as the positive force she claims to be. By entering into the people of Lagos, Ayodele is using her last efforts to help, as she says, on the outside and within.
The events that took place in Lagoon connect to the idea of apocalyptic fiction and strengthens our understanding of what it means to be in a class called Black Apocalyptic Fiction. Lagoon shares many common themes with the previous books we have read thus far in the class. Similar to Wild Seed and the characters of Anyanwu and Doro, the characters in Lagoon also share god-like powers. Anthony, Agu, and Adaora all possess powers that differentiate them from common people, which is the reason Ayodele chooses them as the three people who are swallowed by the sea. In this sense, while Ayodele deems herself the ambassador, Anthony, Agu, and Adaora become almost prophets. These three are chosen to announce the upcoming apocalypse, whether or not they view the matter as apocalyptic or not. Ayodele’s ability to transform into other people and animals are also shared with Wild Seed’s Anyanwu. Connecting the novel to other novels we have seen in this class helps to strengthen the understanding of how Lagoon can be read through the lens of an apocalyptic work of fiction.
Mangan, Author(s): Frank. “Garden Egg.” WorldCrops, 27 Jan. 2017, https://worldcrops.org/crops/garden-egg.
Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon. Saga Press, 2016
Santana Kaplan, Andrew. “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought.” The Comparist, vol. 43, Oct. 2019
Sule, Fati. “The Bittersweet Wonders Of The Nigerian Garden Eggs!” https://jd-publishing.com/the-bittersweet-wonders-of-the-nigerian-garden-eggs