Within a five-minute walk from my house in a quiet Nairobi suburb there are half a dozen new apartment blocks that were not there a year ago. Before they had even been completed, each flat had been sold. On the main road there are billboards advertising iPhones and BlackBerries. Around the corner there is a smart coffee shop full of young Kenyans tapping away on laptops, drinking lattes. Across Africa, economies are growing, creating a new middle class, or the “Africa 2s” as the University of Texas business professor Vijay Mahajan described them. (The Africa 3s being the desperately poor and the Africa 1s the sickeningly rich.)
There are nowhere near enough places at the top tables, though, and for countless millions across sub-Saharan Africa, the dream is to move not from the village to the city, nor from the slum to the suburb – it is to move to that mythical place where everyone has cars and money: Europe. Getting there, as Paul Kenyon describes in harrowing detail, can be deadly. Living there, as Brian Chikwava’s dynamic debut novel reveals, would make one wonder whether the journey was worth it.