Some of these stories were first published individually, and as standalones they are dazzling, haunting, angular and funny. There is a freedom to Osunde’s borderless writing, which captures the unruliness of a twenty-first-century city while exposing the hypocrisies of its rulers, yet still finds amid the chaos possibilities for resistance. Taken as a whole, however, Vagabonds! can seem involuted. In part this is because, while the short story so often turns on something metaphysical, an unfathomable mystery only hinted at (see Joy Williams, for example, a master of the form), the expansiveness of the novel demands greater perspective. By presenting a series of bundled tales, Osunde is able to convey a metropolis heaving with parallel lives, but she loses intellectual coherence and the meaning of the novel’s metaphysics remains obscure. Are the gods tyrants or liberators? Is godliness something everyone should aspire to, or are we simply worshipping the wrong gods? ... It is a poignant finale, but the author’s decision to equip ordinary people with supernatural capabilities feels less like a sleight of hand than a dodge, undermining the radicalism of her vision by imagining a world in which power has simply been transferred from one realm to another. Osunde has said that she wants Vagabonds! to act as a road map, helping the dispossessed to change the real world. But the novel’s spectacular coup de théâtre leaves the reader wondering whether challenges to power can only be imagined as acts of magic.
Ms. Osunde discusses the draconian same-sex marriage prohibition bill passed in Nigeria in 2014, which even criminalizes public displays of affection, and her stories, increasingly animated by righteous anger, turn to covert relationships and the goings-on in secret gay nightclubs. A note of empowerment appears, turning this vitally written miscellany into a kind of rallying cry. It is in the hidden margins of a corrupt metropolis, the stories affirm, that truth and bravery are to be found.
Throughout, a 'monitoring spirit' named Tatafo, a former assistant of Èkó’s, serves as the novel’s M.C. of sorts, teeing up stories, providing context, introducing themes. If sometimes those sections feel a bit forced, a way to glue together the components of a short story collection into a single narrative, it’s a testament to how absorbing the stories are on their own. Together, they give the sense of an unveiling, culminating in a citywide coming-out party that manages to be at once apocalyptic and bewildering, and even joyous.
... raucous ... Even when it confronts darkness in its condemnation of Nigeria’s political and religious corruption and homophobic legislation, Osunde’s partly magical realist novel is imbued with this rich sense of the kinetic and the possible. As intimated by the titular exclamation mark, it is a loud work. It boldly rails against the pernicious sexual orthodoxies and hypocrisies of Nigerian life. It also joyfully resists conventional formal boundaries, both linguistic and generic ... consists of short story-like snapshots about disfranchised dreamers and otherworldly beings living in Lagos’s thrall, all drawn with Osunde’s skill for foregrounding moments of quiet connection amid metropolitan cacophony ... The fantastical tone of the writing throughout serves to draw attention to the speciousness of othering whole groups of society. It also underscores the illusory nature of binary distinctions between 'us' and 'them'. Most movingly, it highlights how the experiences of persecution can make one feel strange to oneself. The thread that holds together these surreal and hyperreal sketches, not always effectively, is the character arc of Tataf ... While the mobility of the narrative shape makes Vagabonds! an energising read, there are moments when episodic similarities in tone, texture and content undermine the reader’s immersion in this bustling world ... Overwhelmingly, what readers will be struck by is the powerful sense of freshness, newness and aliveness here. Osunde gives readers a visionary version of what Lagos is and what it could be. Reverberating with musicality and shot through with innovative figurative language, this patchworked, fabulist novel messily and mischievously appeals for a freer and more open Nigeria. In its experimental celebration of individuality, Vagabonds! is always defiantly and resolutely itself.
Through linked stories steeped in magical realism and a narrative voice reminiscent of early Salman Rushdie, Eloghosa Osunde's exuberant debut novel, Vagabonds! thrusts readers into the heart of Lagos, Nigeria ... The novel's final third showcases the greatest strength of Vagabonds!—its ability to convey the resilience and joy of its nonbinary, trans and gay characters, even under these oppressive conditions ... Osunde blends the erotic with emotional generosity in a love story centered on a lesbian dominatrix and her partner ... Some stories vacillate between heartbreak and optimism, but the book's soaring conclusion, 'Witching Hours/They Will Not Depart from It,' revisits characters we meet throughout the book and reads like the uplifting choral finale of a rousing musical ... For readers unfamiliar with Nigerian slang and culture, Vagabonds! has a learning curve. Osunde is not here to explain what jollof rice is or what wahala means, and the interplay between the spiritual and physical worlds can be disorienting. But Osunde's method also allows us to experience the full vibrancy of her writing ... Vagabonds! works as a phenomenal cultural entry point for anyone who, like me, is excited for more.
From the intimacy of sexuality to the vastness of cityscapes, Osunde gives the reader a clear picture of the messy collision courses that are our lives ... Osunde’s devotion to exploring individual human lives is balanced by a notably divine focus in sections about Èkó, a mythical figure and synecdoche for the masses. Through Èkó, the reader is led to understand the relationship between the public and the godly: When people come together, even unconsciously, they create a divine power. In humanizing this power, Osunde shows how each of her characters is part of something much larger than themselves—which is, in both the biblical and laical senses, awesome ... Osunde reveals people loving and fighting in their bid to design the world together.
Eloghosa Osunde’s world and her characters, including spirits, are so well drawn in Vagabonds! ... Reading Osunde’s novel, so convincing in its storytelling and prose, is akin to sitting around a campfire late at night, telling scary tales, and having to check the back seat of your car before you get in just in case a man with a knife is hiding there ... This novel is in no way morally naive; it is well-populated by those who do wrong with little to no consequence ... abounds in spirits, but it defines the living city of Lagos and its very real rules. And though these rules can at first be hard for a reader to understand, and the voice dictating them can at times fall jarringy out of range, they become the powerful texture of the novel — or rather the game board on which complex characters are forced to play. And their teller, Osunde, becomes a bold new voice for bold new generations
This is an arresting and dazzling tale with a surprising elixir of lyricism and pidgin that leaves readers guessing whether or not Osunde’s metaphors convey the itinerant existence of those who are contemplating their next move in this life or in the next. A mixture of folklore and spiritual fervor plays narrative tricks on the reader while also providing searing social commentary ... Osunde’s inventive and unique story releases its message like a confetti of percipience, teasing out meaning and veering onto thought-provoking tangents and snippets of intrigue that initially feel familiar but which morph into something unsettling yet wondrous.
Osunde’s magnificent magical realist debut crafts a mosaic of struggle and pain in Lagos held together by Tatafo, a supernatural choruslike figure ... The gorgeous, redemptive ending pulls off a triumphant celebration of queer survival. Throughout, Osunde crafts compassionate prose and seamlessly combines magic and grit. This is a stunning introduction to a bold new writer.
A powerful debut novel about the power of love and stories to save people shunned by society for being themselves ... This clarity of vision often leads to violence and even death, but Osunde handles both with a compassionate and ultimately inspiring touch. Osunde revels in the joy of storytelling to render a city and its outsiders in all their flaws and glory.