SHORTLISTED FOR THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE 2020
'A magnificent novel, full of wit, warmth and tenderness' Andrew McMillan
'Smart, serious and entertaining' Bernardine Evaristo
How do you begin to find yourself when you only know half of who you are?
As Nnenna Maloney approaches womanhood she longs to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian culture. Her once close and tender relationship with her mother, Joanie, becomes strained as Nnenna begins to ask probing questions about her father, who Joanie refuses to discuss.
Nnenna is asking big questions of how to 'be' when she doesn't know the whole of who she is. Meanwhile, Joanie wonders how to love when she has never truly been loved. Their lives are filled with a cast of characters asking similar questions about identity and belonging whilst grappling with the often hilarious encounters of everyday Manchester.
Okechukwu Nzelu brings us a funny and heart-warming story that covers the expanse of race, gender, class, family and redemption, with a fresh and distinctive new voice. Perfect for fans of Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Zadie Smith's White Teeth.
'Effortlessly capture[s] the tricky nuance of life, love, race, sexuality and familial relationships' Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie
'Edifying and hilarious, The Private of Joys of Nnenna Maloney is a beautiful debut that you won't want to put down' Derek Owusu
Okechukwu Nzelu is a writer and teacher. In 2015 he was the recipient of a New Writing North Award. In 2020 his debut novel, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, and the Polari First Book Prize. He lives in Manchester and is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster.
A magnificent novel, full of wit, warmth and tenderness; Nzelu shows us that fully becoming who we are is a lifelong journey and that identity, of the self, of family and of a community, is infinitely complex
Okechukwu writes with confidence, wit and humour. Unforgettable characters and a voice that stays with you even after the final page. Edifying and hilarious, The Private of Joys of Nnenna Maloney is a beautiful debut that you won't want to put down
Derek Owusu, writer, poet and podcaster
Okechukwu Nzelu has effortlessly captured the tricky nuance of life, love, race, sexuality and familial relationships . . . I haven't been able to put it down
Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie
Nzelu writes with a witty confidence rarely seen in debut fiction. Smart, serious and entertaining, I expect this book to have wide appeal and for this writer to go far
Bernardine Evaristo, author of Booker-shortlisted novel Girl, Woman, Other
[An] effervescent depiction of race and
sexuality in 21st-century Britain. Nzelu is a delightfully
generous writer and treats the conflicts of his characters with equal
sympathy but he is best of all on the multiple subtle ways in which the
most well-intentioned straight white people use sexuality and race to
'other' even their closest friends. He's also very funny . . . zesty social
comedy that skewers religious, racial and sexual prejudice with a light
Witty narrative . . . [a] well-written tale
This debut is the big-hearted story of a half-Nigerian teenager growing up in Manchester, desperate to find out the truth about her Igbo heritage
'[a] tender, funny debut . . . Nzelu writes with compelling honesty, but he's also gifted with a warm sense of humour
A vivid picture of people seeking security and identity in the maze of modern-day England. This is fiction as sculpture: skilfully paring down a scene to reveal the shape of the pain hidden within. Jonathan's search for validation, and Nnenna's drive to create an identity for herself, are moving and relatable stories, intimately told
A promising debut novel about race, class, family, belief and sexuality
Figuring out who you truly are is the central theme of this open-hearted debut . . . a quietly complex plot comes together and a lyrical epilogue takes over
One of my earliest pieces for the Church Times was about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's debut novel Purple Hibiscus, and I remember feeling reluctant to use the word "masterpiece" of that book, which indeed it was. Okechukwu Nzelu is another new Nigerian writer to celebrate: The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney has the same clear, well-written prose and natural dialogue, the same important human issues deftly touched on, the clashes between generations, and, crucially, how skin-colour can warp, but also illuminate, a human life
I was beguiled by the sheer heart of Okechukwu Nzelu's novel The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney . . . "Joy" is exactly the right word for this unforgettable debut, about a Nigerian-British girl coming of age in our mixed-up world
New Statesman - Preti Taneja