The Shadow of a Smile


About the book

Torn from his father and a loving sister, the young student Zuba is imprisoned for a crime he has not even thought about committing. His misfortune: to live in a world where corruption is rife and honest and law-abiding people are crushed by the wheels of a blind, unscrupulous bureaucracy. What seems at first to be an irksome judiciary misunderstanding gradually becomes a journey through the hell of Nigerian prisons. Only by showing the utmost daring and integrity will Zuba be able to regain his freedom.

Funny, crude, poignant, Kachi Ozumba's debut novel reveals the darker side of a country striving to consolidate democracy after years of dictatorship and tribal in-fighting. There is as much of The Shawshank Redemption in this story as there is Don Quixote, and lovers of Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri and J.M. Coetzee will also find much to delight and inspire them.


The Shadow of a Smile vividly evokes contemporary Nigeria in a harrowing but also wryly entertaining, exuberant account of a young student’s ordeal in an anarchic prison. This first novel pits humour and humanity against arbitrariness and the paralysis of meaningless bureaucracy.
The Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize Panel


A brilliantly funny and gripping novel
The Observer

Ozumba's gift for capturing detail is astonishing
The Independent

Despite the inhumanities of life in prison and the stereotypes we have built around it, Kachi shows how the laws and rules prisoners make for themselves provide an uncanny mirror of life lived on the outside
BBC World Service

Scarcely can a gripping account be rendered
with such clarity and humour as conveyed by Ozumba
Nürnberger Zeitung

A stark, compelling plot, poignantly written

An unsettling disquisition on a contemporary society perched
precariously on the brink of anarchy and disorder

An unputdownable book of discovery.
Fascinating and entertaining in equal measures
Lovereading UK

This is a surprisingly cheering read due to some irrepressible, larger-than-life characters, lively dialogue and an engaging hero

An engaging read…Ozumba weaves into the plot the history of ethnic tension, along with police corruption and vigilantism
The New Black Magazine

A very fine novel indeed…Ozumba's achievement is to take such potentially harrowing surroundings and find in them not only sympathy and occasional acts of kindness, but even humour


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