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The village intimacy and warmth of Emechta's previous novels (The Slave Girt, The Joys of Motherhood) are occasionally swamped here--in a heroic yet uneven attempt to reconstruct the tragic complexity of the Nigerian/Biafran civil war of the late '60s. Emechta's heroine is Debbie Ogedemgbe, daughter of the newly independent government's Finance Minister--who, along with the Prime Minister and other leaders, is killed in an Army coup after Nigeria's first chaotic election. Debbie, however, decides to join the Army--a dream she had even before the coup; she understands the need for a clean sweep toward a new Nigeria. (The toppled leaders had been Britain-approved types.) And the Army men welcome this new recruit despite (or because of) her British ""connections"": her Oxford education, her affair with troubleshooter Capt. Alan Grey (Emechta's symbol of British colonialism here). But things grow complex for Debbie as more executions and power grabs follow; there's a tangle of raids and alliances among the major tribes--the Hausas, Ibos, and Yorubas; the Ibo witch-hunt begins with terrible slaughter. And when Army leader Saka Momoh, egged on by the British, attempts to gerrymander valuable oil away from Ibo territory, the battle begins for that land known as Biafra. So now Debbie, who sees Biafra as a detribalized Utopia with shared wealth, takes it on herself to try to change the Army's policy: she begins a long trek through the war zone to plead with Army leader Chijioke Abosi (who's defending Biafra with Britain-supplied WW I weapons) to forget power-greedy ambition and work only for the New Nigeria; and along the way she survives rape, witnesses atrocities, but is inspired by the strength of exploited African women. Despite this afl-too-convincing death-march, however: an ill-paced novel that neglects fictional values in its rush to pack in knotty history and often-shrill politics.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1982
Publisher: Allison & Busby--dist. by Schocken