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Book Review: Broad themes meet niche topics in Fadipe's debut novel 'The Sun Sets in Singapore'

Dara's dream of defying the odds and becoming a partner at her firm is just within reach when Lani enters the picture.
This cover image released by Grand Central Publishing shows "The Sun Sets in Singapore" by Kehinde Fadipe. (Grand Central Publishing via AP)

Dara's dream of defying the odds and becoming a partner at her firm is just within reach when Lani enters the picture. This handsome Nigerian man is about to irrevocably change her life, and her best friend's and the newcomer to their book club's lives, too.

Kehinde Fadipe’s debut novel, “The Sun Sets in Singapore,” brings three expat Nigerian women to the stage to highlight the specific struggles that come with their race, gender and backgrounds — particularly in an upscale and competitive environment like Singapore.

Lani is joining Dara’s firm, and the timing is impeccable for undermining the years of cutthroat efforts and ludicrous hours she’s sunk into her job trying to secure a partnership. She tells her best friend, Amaka, in hopes they can dig up some dirt on the guy and figure out what to do.

But Amaka, who’s trying to keep her workplace romance and the battle over her father’s estate thoroughly compartmentalized, is zapped by an immediate attraction to Lani. Her coping mechanism of choice is pricey shoes and handbags, and with the stresses piling up, Amaka’s on track to blow through everything her father left.

Then there’s Lillian, a former concert pianist who followed her husband from the United States to Singapore in an attempt to escape her demons. But the emotional scars left by the death of her parents at an early age can’t be outrun. When she sees Lani, he’s the spitting image of her father. The grief, stress and aimlessness that have ruled her life for so long begin to bubble over.

The women find themselves in the same book club, which cycles through tons of enticing titles that Fadipe has kindly included a list of at the end of the novel. When the women get into discussing the books they’ve read, it’s clearly a statement on the story; halfway through, there’s essentially a book report on “Americanah” about the way women oppress each other. It’s heavy handed, but it works.

Fadipe’s novel tackles broad, common themes: misogyny in the workplace, family strife and love triangles. But it’s also exceptionally niche.

Dara loves Greek mythology, Amaka knows designer fashion inside and out, and classical music is embedded in Lillian like DNA. Plus, their very status as Nigerians in Singapore is a rarity that brings up hyper-specific experiences unfamiliar to most Western readers. It’s uncomfortable, cool, and confusing all at once. And in the moments when you know the reference, it’s highly rewarding.

“The Sun Sets in Singapore” is charming, sweet, funny and emotional — but also exhausting. Its high drama, quick turns and brutally unrelenting pace demand you keep up or drop out, which makes it all the more disappointing when the pivotal climax is as clear as day with a red flag the size of Singapore waving right in readers’ faces for pages. The tone doesn’t change between the women’s chapters, so I found myself flipping back on multiple occasions to figure out which “she” we were reading about.

Would I read it again? No. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely. Just the opportunity to experience something completely new makes “The Sun Sets in Singapore” worth picking up and discussing at your own book club.


AP book reviews:

Donna Edwards, The Associated Press

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