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Category Archive for 'Nigeria'

You may have read many novels in which the two main characters hate each other, but how many have you read in which the main characters, two professional women, are in their eighties and next-door neighbors? Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door, will appeal to readers looking for an escape from some of the doom and gloom of contemporary life without escaping into mindlessness, a story with some realistic grit. Setting the novel in Cape Town, South Africa, Omotoso depicts an upscale enclave in which these two women, one black and one white, must deal with some big issues, some of them racial. Though apartheid is outlawed and the neighbors may pretend that the problems are solved, the feelings are not yet gone. This is not a “message novel,” however. For Omotoso, the story and its characters come first, her themes being revealed through their conflicts and the empathy she creates among her readers. Fun and often funny, with unique characters, and strong insights into the racial tensions of South Africa.

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Deola Bello, a thirty-nine-year-old Nigerian expatriate who has been living in London since the 1980s, is now working for LINK, a non-profit charity which funds projects in Third World countries. She is about to travel “home” to Lagos on business for a week to report on two projects in Lagos, and her brief return will coincide with the fifth anniversary of her father’s death. The family memorial service will draw large numbers of family and friends. With the focus on the small, the specific, and the individual, as these details relate to the general state of middle-class life in Lagos, the author shows how these characters compare and contrast with those Deola sees in London, who are also described in the same kind of detail as they try to communicate with each other and the outside world. In paying such close attention to “Who are we, really?” this book feels quite different from other books set in Nigeria. Atta is far less interested in using a story to illustrate universal themes or endemic problems than she is in looking at her characters’ lives through a magnifying glass, describing what she sees (without editing all the plebeian details) and allowing the reader to share the point of view of Deola, the character who is making the observations.

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As in his prize-winning novel Waiting for an Angel, Nigerian author Helon Habila here emphasizes the power of the press to keep people honest—or more honest than they would be without reporters watching and reporting on their actions. Rufus, a young reporter with an uncertain job future, and Zaq, an alcoholic who was once one of the best reporters in Nigeria, are searching for Isabel Floode, the wife of a British petroleum engineer, who has been kidnapped by militants and held for ransom. Nine days have passed since the two reporters and their boatman left Port Harcourt, and all the other journalists looking for her have given up, but these two continue to follow the river in a small canoe, looking for clues and trying to make contact with those who may be holding Mrs. Floode. No one knows (or will say) how to reach the rebels who hold her captive, and no firm or reliable demands have been made for ransom. As Rufus becomes frustrated by delays, the veteran Zaq must, at one point, remind him to keep his eye on the real goal of their trip: “Forget the woman and her kidnappers for a moment. What we really seek is not them but a greater meaning. Remember, the story is not the final goal….The meaning of the story [is], and only a lucky few ever discover that.” Outstanding novel of the problems spawned by the oil industry and corruption in Nigeria.

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Nigeria in the 1990s, the setting for this novel, was a police state of such sadistic violence, with human rights abuses so staggering, that the country was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations, and virtually every other country had sanctions against it. Focusing primarily on Lomba, a journalist and frustrated novelist, who, in the opening chapter is a starving political prisoner in a Lagos jail, author Helon Habila jumps back and forth in time, introducing us in succeeding chapters to the lives of ordinary citizens of Lagos, men and women, including Lomba himself, living on Poverty Street, trying to maintain some semblance of hope in an increasingly hopeless world. Lomba, jailed for two years without a trial as the novel opens, has gone beyond anger, which he describes as “the baffled prisoner’s attempt to re-crystallize his slowly dissolving self,” and entered “a state of tranquil acceptance” of his fate. When the jailer finds the poems and journal entries he has written and hidden, he persuades Lomba to write some love poems for the better-educated woman he is courting. A brief ray of hope flickers when the woman recognizes Lomba’s cryptic messages and comes to the prison to meet him.

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Twelve-year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother Ezekiel find their comfortable lives in suburban Lagos dramatically changed when their parents suddenly separate and they must follow their mother to her native village, a tiny community near Warri in the Niger Delta. There they find life completely different—no electricity, no generator, no air conditioning, no refrigerator, no running water or flush toilets, no separate bedrooms, and a school system that uses harsh corporal punishment for the most minor of infractions. Living in a small house with their grandparents, while their mother takes the only job she can get at a bar at the nearby oil company compound, Blessing and Ezekiel quickly learn what it is like having almost no money while living in an area with some of the richest oil deposits in the world. The profits from this incredible resource are unavailable to ordinary Nigerians who live on top of these deposits, and it is these local residents who must cope with the fatal pollution of the Niger Delta–the largest wetland area in the world. Though the novel starts slowly, with its emphasis on developing character and setting, it becomes, eventually, a series of interconnected episodes which illustrate the problems of the country, as Blessing, Ezekiel, and their mother Timi try to find happiness in their new life.

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