Somewhere between folklore, memoir and modern fiction

Reading Yewande Omotoso's novel "Bom Boy," just when you think you’ve figured the characters out, the author opens them up a little more, and our perceptions change.

Credit: Shlin, via Flickr CC.

A thing had begun to grow like a tree in Leke’s throat.” So begins Yewande Omotoso’s Bom Boy, a bright debut novel that sits comfortably in the realm of magic realism, somewhere between folklore, memoir and modern fiction. Leke Denton is the son of a Nigerian father and a coloured South African mother, the latter who through uncontrollable circumstances gives up baby Leke for adoption to a White Capetonian couple, the loving Jane and the well-meaning Marcus. After Jane dies due to a sudden illness, Leke is left even more lost in a city that specializes in alienation. As a young adult he becomes reclusive and starts stalking people; he makes endless doctor’s appointments and false check ups in order to have basic human contact. He eventually finds out through old letters from his biological father about a family curse, and he starts piecing his past together.

I found the book to be genuinely refreshing, with characters that constantly surprised me; they all unraveled very gently throughout the narrative like flowers in bloom. (Which works for this romantic.) Just when you think you’ve figured the characters out, the author opens them up a little more, and our perceptions change.

Yewande told me she wanted the reader to “be compelled to consider their own prejudices, and the shortcomings of these. Mostly I wanted people to experience compassion for the characters, to be unable to simply write even the most difficult of characters off.”

A Cape Town based architect “by day,” Omotoso had to wake up at 5am every morning and write for two hours before it was time to leave for work. She describes it as somewhat of a “military operation.” She comes from a family of writers, and completing a novel was something she had wanted to do for many years. Her father, Professor Kole Omotoso has written five novels, not to mention a plethora of academic publications, plays and literary critiques. Fun fact: he is famously known in South Africa as the “Yebo, Gogo” man in the Vodacom commercials from the late 90s-early 2000s. Her brother is the well-known and respected filmmaker/writer/director Akin Omotoso (remember his ‘God is African’, but he also has recently completed a new feature – ‘Man on Ground’ – tackling the South Africa’s xenophobic streak). I mention to Yewande that Bom Boy would make a great film and asked whether a sibling collaboration is on the cards. “We’ve spoken about it. I think we’d like to do something together in the future.”

Bom Boy is a debut novel that deserves your attention. As Tade Ipadeola writes in the Lagos Review of Books, “I hope, sincerely, that this golden debut fills every barren space on the continent from the Karoo to the Sahara with the chlorophyll of hope…” So do we.

Read an excerpt of Bom Boy here.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

Breaking the chains of indifference

The significance of ending the ongoing war in Sudan cannot be overstated, and represents more than just an end to violence. It provides a critical moment for the international community to follow the lead of the Sudanese people.

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.

The two Africas

In the latest controversies about race and ancient Egypt, both the warring ‘North Africans as white’ and ‘black Africans as Afrocentrists’ camps find refuge in the empty-yet-powerful discourse of precolonial excellence.