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Zukiswa Wanner

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Tangled Romance: A Review of Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter

The Spider King\'s DaughterAt the beginning of The Spider King’s Daughter, I was convinced I was reading a fairy tale.

The blurb at the back would have many believe the same too.

Boy from the wrong side of town meets girl from the upper side of town. They fall in love, overcome one or two obstacles, and they live happily ever after.

Simple, yes? Not.

The Spider King is Olumide Johnson, a rich man with vast business interests who spreads his largesse to everyone who is anyone in Lagos, Nigeria.

At the start of the book, Johnson’s daughter, Abike, watches her father’s chauffeur drive over her dog twice, which she believes is significant because she views it as a ploy by her father to hurt her.

When she examines the dog and sees it suffering, she gets back in the car and asks, “Daddy, please can we run over my dog again?”, qualifying her request: “Daddy, please make sure he hits the head this time.”

Through this test, the ruthless Olumide Johnson has found the one child who shall be his heir.

The story, told through the voices of a hawker and Abike in Lagos, begins when she is 17.

One afternoon in Lagos, Abike sees the attractive hawker while being driven from school in the family Jeep. She returns to the same spot the day after – and soon she is buying an ice cream every afternoon. Abike is a child who always gets what she wants and seems close to developing an affection for the hawker. But he appears to be withholding a secret.

Why is he so well-spoken?

What she does not know is that the hawker is a rich boy who falls on hard times after his father dies.

His mother has a breakdown after the death of his father and he is forced to become the “man of the house”. His deceased father had left no inheritance for his son and the hawker was forced to quit his exclusive private school for a government school and, later, for the streets as a hawker so he could take care of the family.

She soon invites him to her house, and he takes her on walks to parts of Lagos from which her sheltered princess life barred her.

The hawker learns unpleasant truths about Abike’s family. The beggar he befriended, Aunty Precious, his mother and many others seem to be tied to the Spider King.

I was amazed to discover that writer Chibundu Onuzo is just 21 years of age.

While reading this book I said out loud to myself: “Chibundu O, like a dramatic Nollywood actress. Kill me dead. This girl has skills.”

Wanner is the author of several novels, most recently Men of the South.

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