Born in Nigeria and raised in England, Noo Saro-Wiwa avoided visiting her native country after her father, a prominent political activist, was killed there for speaking out against government corruption. Years later, Saro-Wiwa, a travel writer, decided to return to Nigeria and explore her love-hate relationship with her homeland. Her journey both reinforces and calls into question her ethnic identity: a visit to her home village means that she is in the one place in the world where people can pronounce her name correctly; yet her grasp on the local dialect is shaky at best. Starting with the sprawling city of Lagos and its death-defying okada (motorcycle cab) rides, Saro-Wiwa traverses the country, exploring attractions like Transwonderland, a decaying amusement park commissioned by the wife of one of Nigeria’s many former dictators. Those leaders used the country’s vast oil wealth to line their pockets—leaving ordinary Nigerians too poor to visit such tourist attractions. Saro-Wiwa mourns the cynicism stemming from widespread government corruption, and laments a society in which superstition and lawlessness overwhelm peoples’ everyday lives—a culture in which college campuses are overrun with occult gangs, and armed roadside kidnappings are common. Yet she also celebrates her fellow Nigerians’ love of life and appreciation of joyful festivity—their conviction that “ecstasy [is] a serious business”—and develops a pleasurable addiction to the local cinema’s flash and flair. Saro-Wiwa’s sense of humor, openness, and conversational writing style makes reading this book a similarly pleasurable event.
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, $11.51, amazon.com
By Renate Robertson
This review appears in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of BUST Magazine with cover girl Aubrey Plaza. Subscribe now.
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