Sunday, March 3, 2013

Oil on Water by Helon Habila

Helon Habila is a new wave Nigerian author, presently a professor at George Mason Univ.  The novel Oil on Water (2010) follows two Port Harcourt journalists, Rufus and his mentor Zaq (dying of dengue fever, p. 150), into the Niger Delta in search of a kidnapped oil executive (p. 72) James Floode's wife, Isabel Floode (p. 191).  Of course, the kidnap assist is provided by her driver Salomon, and let's be clear that the executive has impregnated (p. 218) his girlfriend Koko (p. 202).  Naive he is too as he laments on the rebel attacks on the oil infrastructure "The people don't understand what they do to themselves..." (p. 103).

The story line aside, the style of writing is based on interwoven flashbacks, while our journalists are seeking the wife on Irikefe Island (imaginary, p. 225).  The book opens on "our ninth day on her trail" (p. 5).  Their odyssey is Conradian, and the flashback hazy style is reminiscent of Heart of Darkness.  Nigeria's dictator Sani Abacha (p. 236) died in 1998 - he was famous for colluding with Big Oil, this story unfolds ten years later.  Yet the triangular entanglements between rebels, the oil companies, and the Nigerian military are ever present.

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