'Sweet Crude' Odyssey by Alex Sochi

'Sweet Crude' Odyssey

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the shady corners of modern Africa, a rare glimpse at the Nigerian petroleum industry and the dangerous contractors who deal in black gold.

Jobless, drunk and nearly broke, Bruce meets Steve, a shifty Englishman with a lucrative offer: if Bruce can broker deals with backcountry oil prospectors, he can earn a fortune from the black-market oil boom. Bruce, a native Nigerian, is uniquely qualified—he’s smart and has experience in the field. The story follows him through a series of transactions with warlords and transporters, including the hardened and charismatic Gen. Jojo. But after 10 years of buying “sweet crude,” Bruce’s relationships disintegrate, and he’s caught between impossible demands and escalating threats on his life. Painstakingly researched, the novel unveils a lawless country filled with profiteers, a morally ambiguous environment in which Bruce proves to be a very reluctant hero. It’s refreshing to meet such an unusual protagonist, a native African with a good heart who nevertheless earns money by hustling his own countrymen. Only his affection for an idealist named Kathy causes Bruce to second-guess his unsavory trade, and he struggles to draft an exit plan. Stylistically, the novel suffers from clunky exposition and weak physical descriptions, and the dynamic city of Lagos never comes fully into focus, nor do many of the story’s other exotic locations. But Sochi tells an engaging tale, and specific references and dialogue written in Nigerian pidgin lend the book a certain authority. The author capably describes Nigeria’s complex politics, with tension steadily building until the final pages. Beautiful women and hedonistic nights illustrate why Bruce’s business is so attractive, while grisly death scenes confirm the gravity of his situation if he fails. The tidy ending is a bit cliché, but the bloody path leading there is an important cautionary tale featuring a complicated man balancing ethics and poverty.

Often stiff and awkward but an informed addition to contemporary literature on African economics.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1499567755
Page count: 388pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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