Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, By Christie Watson

 

Skilfully treading the fine line between gritty hardship and homespun warmth, this child's-eye story of a Nigerian family became a surprise shortlistee for the Costa first-novel award.

With 12-year-old Blessing as our narrator, we join the clan as Father deserts them, they quit their Lagos home, and move in with grandparents amid the political unrest of the oil-rich but violence-scarred Niger Delta.

Beyond the struggle to survive, Blessing also has to negotiate a crossing between faiths: "Being Muslim was like being Christian, but with more rules".

For the vigour of its characters and the pace of its prose, with a smartly controlled balance of uplift and upheaval, Christie Watson's affecting but unsentimental debut earns its place in the sun.

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