Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Nine Lives is a story about Olupitan Ogunrinu, a young village boy and the travails he goes through to become a man. Pitan as he is called for short, comes from a poor rural fishing community. The first of three children, he has come to enjoy the serenity and peace associated with village life. But his life changes abruptly, when he gains admission to study at a university in the city.
Pitan finds the city life so strange that he gets quite depressed for a while, especially as he is unable to find common ground with most of the students on campus except for his roommate Debo Johnson. The fast paced life and the constant rush to drive the fastest cars, and wear the hippiest clothes lead to a social divide at the university, with the students, more or less, forced to hang around those with whom they share common social status.
Also on the university campus, is Babatunde Aleshinloye, a boy from a rich home who chooses to stay with his father after his parents’ divorce. He is later disowned when it is discovered that he has slept with his half sister. But even this does not affect Babs’ materialistic nature. At campus, he prefers to move with the fast crowd. And, despite attending the same secondary school as Pitan, and having been friends before, Babs shuns Pitan at university.
Undaunted, Pitan decides to channel his energy into his studies. And for a while, he gets exceptional results, that is, until he meets and falls in love with Tolani Badmus, a girl from an affluent home. Although the two love each other, they have difficulties as a result of Pitan’s financial constraints and the peer pressure from Tolani’s friends. They eventually part ways when Pitan finds Tolani hanging out with Babs. So begin years of enmity between Babs and Pitan.
When Pitan is forced to drop out of school because of bad grades, having been distracted by his relationship with Tolani, he joins a cult, where he is almost killed after trying to pull out. He runs away to America in order to spare his parents of the shame of knowing that their child has failed at school.
While in America, he goes through a string of challenges, including the death of his pregnant wife. After eleven years, he returns to Nigeria a rich man. He seeks out his former roommate Debo, and makes amends with his parents. In time, he establishes himself as a successful local businessman. And later, he goes into politics, where he defeats his long-time rival, Babs. Ultimately, he also reunites with his old flame Tolani.
First published in 2007 by CG&S Books, El-Nukoya’s Nine Lives received the 2007 ANA/Jacaranda Prize for Prose.