Debut novelist Atogun delivers a fine, allusive challenge to the dictators who infest Africa—and the world.
Taduno, “no last name, no address, just Taduno,” is a musician in a strange land, where a letter from a lost love reaches him, pulling him back to Nigeria. He has been anonymous in that orderly place of winding streets and neat gardens. To his surprise, when he arrives in his homeland, from which he had exiled himself, he is anonymous there, too; even his oldest friends don’t recognize him, though all agree that “he was a nice man who had lost his mind.” As for his lost love, she has been detained, though the police sergeant whom Taduno calls on puts it more baldly than that: the government has kidnapped her for reasons that perhaps even its agents do not know, and even though Taduno protests that “arrested” is the better word than “kidnapped,” Lela is gone. Now the goal is to find her but also to find his long-abandoned trove of guitars, find a voice grown so scratchy that the neighbors think it’s coming from a ghost, and persuade the president to intercede. All of that is easier said than done, and, even as he winds his way through a weird bureaucracy full of post-adolescent technocrats and strong-arm cops, it forces Taduno to grapple with the big question: does he save his skin, or does he resist? It’s a timely question for readers no matter where they may live, and though some of the events of Atogun’s novel speak to the real-life travails of Nigerian singer Fela Kuti, the story has universal appeal as it broadens from Kafkaesque allegory to broader satire, the writing assured and controlled as it places Taduno at that existential crossroads at which he knows “that his redemption song would be a very short one.”
Not quite with the narrative power of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow, yet, but a fine beginning to what we hope will be a fruitful career.