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Review of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria


By Martin Banham

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. Noo Saro-Wiwa. Granta, 2012. Pp. 320. ISBN. 978 1 84708 030 1 (pb). £14.99.

‘In England, cheerful phone enquiries about the provenance of my name are occasionally met with silence when I tell them I’m Nigerian. The world judges me according to this mess, and looking at it made me feel rather worthless’.

‘According to the Bible, God made the earth in six days and took a rest on the seventh. But by creating Nigerians, he ensured that that was the last day off he’s enjoyed ever since.’

‘Suddenly, one of the tyres burst and we came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. I became an anxious speck in this vast semi-desert, But soon after, a man on a motorcycle travelling in the opposite direction stopped next to us. The nearest service station was 16 kilometres behind him, he told us, yet to my amazement, he turned around and rode back to fetch help, trundling towards the horizon without complaint. His altruism seemed motivated not by duty but by innate reflex. No mater how alien my surroundings in Nigeria, I always felt cushioned by this safety net of human decency.’

These extracts to whet your appetite!

This is a brilliant chronicle of ‘travels in Nigeria’ and one that could reasonably have been underscored with anger at the brutal killing of her father, Ken Saro-Wiwa, at the hands of the Abacha regime. His presence is everywhere in this sensitive chronicle, but serves to stimulate an almost innocent exploration of the nation to which the writer belongs but from which she has been so long estranged. The great cities of Nigeria – Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt – are revisited by the writer in her travels often in the company of relatives or friends, but there are also solitary and intriguing journeys to the most remote parts of the country. She climbs up to Sukur, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mandara mountains on the Cameroonian border and down to the rainforests of the Rivers region of south-east Nigeria. The small asides of her commentary are both perceptive and moving: ‘Nothing is more beautiful than a rainforest in the morning mist. The sunlight shot through the towering trees, giving their greenness a dewy, sparkling translucence, which hinted at the possibility that spirits truly existed in the forest’. At Ibadan she recalls her father’s student days, ‘memories of him conversing with his friends: of loud intellectual gripes that hung in the tobacco clouds…’.

This is a remarkable piece of travel writing, but also a brilliant personal voyage of rediscovery.

Reviewed by: Martin Banham, University of Leeds.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 74 (December 2012), pp. 100-101]

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