Daily Archives: October 1, 2009

Onitsha by Jean-Marie Le Clezio

Onitsha is the story of a boy raised by his mother in France and Italy who travels to Nigeria with his mother to finally meet his English father, who works as a bureaucrat for a British company but longs to study the historical migration from Egypt to Nigeria. The first third of the book describes the very slow journey by boat from France to Nigeria, meticulously detailing the overly close relationship between the boy and his mother and their discoveries of a new world. The rest of the book is about their life in Nigeria, trying to adapt to a very different way of life while surrounded by mostly racist colonials and seemingly perfect and exploited locals, and with a remote father who doesn’t seem able to create a warm bond with his son, or recreate the one he once had with his wife.

The book is slow, dreamlike in many parts, beautifully written (I read it in French), and filled with the ideas of the innocence of children and the innate dignity of Africans — which felt to me like second-degree stereotyping and racism.

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