"Atta, winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature for Everything Good Will Come (2006), delivers on the promise of her well-received early work with this breakout which is at once an American successor to classic Nigerian literature and a commentary on how the English-speaking world reads Africa. Lagos born Deola Bello enjoys her job in the London office of an international charity organization, but sees how her home country is sold abroad and is all too aware of the Western attitudes that cling to her African friends, like the intellectual Bandele and the born-again Subu, while shaping the perception of her English schoolfellows and American colleagues. But unlike Bandele, Deola still considers herself Nigerian, and a trip home to visit her widowed mother and testy, troubled siblings - all coping with the legacy of their autocratic father - provides Atta with the opportunity to examine the realities of modern African life, from HIV to the upwardly-mobile Diaspora. Like Teju Cole's Open City, Deola s story is low on drama but rich in life, though Atta s third-person voice makes less for a portrait of a mind in transit than a life caught in freeze-frame, pinned between two continents and radiating pathos. Wholly believable, especially in its nuanced approach to racial identity, the story feels extremely modern while excelling at the novelist s traditional task: finding the common reality between strangers and rendering alien circumstances familiar."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Atta's splendid writing sizzles with wit and compassion. This is an immensely absorbing book." --
-Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street
"An up-close portrait of middle-class Nigeria exploring the boundaries of morals and public decorum. Pitched between humor and despair, with stripped-down, evocative prose, A Bit of Difference bristles with penknife-sharp dialogue, but its truths are more subtle, hiding in the unspoken. Ultimately, A Bit of Difference explores -with a hint of mischief-the problem of how to look like you have no problems when you have abundant problems-the universal problem of the socially-motivated classes."
--Nii Parkes, author of Tail of the Blue
This detailed novel from Atta (Everything Good Will Come), winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature and NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa, features 39-year-old Deola Bello, a Nigerian financial reviewer who works for an international charity in London. Her job takes her back to Nigeria just as her family holds her father s five-year memorial service. She had not been home for those five years, so while there she is observant and active, coming to numerous realizations that challenge and change her. The novel addresses various social issues, including intercultural expectations and HIV, but is far from preachy. Verdict Atta s characters are multidimensional, with Deola s voice particularly impressive, and the vividly painted events feel real. Throughout, Atta successfully evokes intense emotion. Recalling Rula Jebreal s Miral, this work will appeal to all readers of contemporary African literature. --Library Journal
The pace of Sefi Atta s latest novel, A Bit of Difference is leisurely; it s deliberately understated in style, but do resist the impulse to dismiss it for a more incendiary read; the story is told entirely from protagonist Deola Bello s point of view, and Deola has a tendency to digress; these digressions do prove crucial, for its Deola s meandering but incisive commentary which elevates this simple story from enjoyable to enlightening.
The deviations from the central plot give depth to the narrative which ranges over several pivotal months in the life of a single woman who after years away from Nigeria, the country she still calls home, has to decide whether she is ready to return.
There s potent and biting critique of the charity sector and those who make their living in it, in Deola s thoughts on her job as an accountant who audits an international charity s projects. Her first observations of a soon to be colleague Graham illustrate the wit which permeates the novel.
Deola notices that Graham s office is full of souvenirs like clay bowls and carvings, she thinks, "she couldn t stop looking at them during the interview and she was not sure if they calmed her down or put her off. Even back then she knew Graham would prefer the most European of African countries, like South Africa and Kenya. She knew she would stand a better chance with him if she presented herself as an African in need."
Atta imbues Deola s voice with delicious perceptiveness and irony. In her observations of her friends in London - Subu, a bible bashing investment banker and Harrow educated Bandele, a misanthropic James Baldwin loving writer whose choice of profession and bouts of depression have made him the black sheep of his family there s a sympathetic critique of a migrant elite far removed from the African as victim more commonly the subject of western media; Atta even cocks a snook at the pre-occupations of relatively privileged African writers in the mould of Bandele, when he vents his frustration after missing out on a literary prize to a fellow Nigerian tha a prize administrator who describes the winner as needing it more.
When Atta s protagonist engineers a work trip to Nigeria to coincide with a memorial to commemorate the fifth anniversary of her father s death her sharp wit turns to Nigeria s bourgeoisie. Her deliberations on her extended family expose the troubles plaguing modern day Nigeria s ruling class. Marital breakdowns and infidelity, materialism and the rise of fundamentalist Christian churches are all examined.
At the heart of the novel is a central character who readers will warm to; in less able hands, the privileged Deola s slight melancholy might be dismissed as self-indulgence or churlishness but instead it she elicits her empathy, as Atta perfectly hones in on the emptiness which so often epitomises modern life with its emphasis on the individual; the overall effect is a pithy analysis of contemporary Nigeria and a character you will want things to work out well for. --Royal African Society January 2014
Towards the end of A Bit Of Difference, we re told that the main character Deola Bello is loath to idealise Nigerian culture . By then, though, this tip-off is almost comically unnecessary, because Deola has already given a ruefully matter-of-fact kicking to all that s wrong with her home country, including the relentless corruption, the irreducible tribal divisions, the fact that nothing works and even the apparent tendency of Nigerians to have weak calves and be tone-deaf.
But, although the novel might not appeal to the Nigerian authorities, it s far richer and more complicated than the mere displaying of dirty linen.
For one thing, Deola, who starts the book working for an aid organisation in London, is just as unsparing about Western shortcomings. For another, her criticisms of Nigeria never seem remotely like expat sneering (Sefi Atta herself now lives in America).
Instead, they re wounds that Deola deeply feels, as she struggles to work out where she belongs now that she s still single at 39, and beginning to wonder where independence ends and loneliness begins.
The result is a shrewd, quietly fearless and often witty novel that triumphantly succeeds in being both politically thought-provoking and emotionally engaging. --Daily Mail January 2014