Helon Habila’s ‘Oil on Water’ for Abuja Book Club’s March 2013 Reading

It’s either I have not read lots of fiction about the Niger Delta or not many books have been written about the region. I suspect it’s more of the former.

When I came across The Patriot by Tanure Ojaide, I devoured it immediately based on my great love for his poetry. But I was thoroughly disappointed. It read like an academic text, like Professor Ojaide was trying to educate people on the environmental and other issues in the region. The story line was good but the author was like a dictatorial puppeteer interfering with everything the characters did.

When Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow was published, I did not get to read it. The book won the 2007 ANA/Chevron Prize for Environmental Writing in 2007 and the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2008 but I didn’t get to read it until it was chosen as the Book of the Month by the Abuja Book Club (powered by Abuja Literary Society). I was disappointed with the book in that it took on several issues and failed to join them all together to make the whole. That may be my ‘taste’ but members of the Abuja Book Club came to the same conclusion.

Then Chimeka Garricks came with Tomorrow Died Yesterday! Now here is a book that zoomed on an issue and did justice to it. Very tight story line and engaging writing that enthralled me. I bought the book when it was advertised for Infusion in Abuja. It joined the very long queue on my bookshelf until he came to Infusion and read the opening pages. That day I sat through the night and read the book! The delicious aftertaste is still on my tongue!

Sam Omatseye’s The Crocodile Girl may not have been meant to dwell much on the environmental issues in the Niger Delta, but it certainly paints a vivid picture of life there. While passing a weekend in Lagos in 2011, I was privileged to attend a reading by Sam Omatseye and Chuma Nwokolo where I laid hands on The Crocodile Girl. The book also jumped the queue and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Of the limited fiction with a focus on the Niger Delta that I have read, Chimeka Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday and Sam Omatseye’s The Crocodile Girl stand out for me. So as I start the reading of Helon Habila’s Oil on Water, the Abuja Book Club’s Book of the Month for March 2013, I am expectant! Will it tell a story or will it be a flop?


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