Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

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Noo Saro-Wiwa was brought up in England, but every summer she was dragged back to visit her father in Nigeria — a country she viewed as an annoying parallel universe where she had to relinquish all her creature comforts and sense of individuality. After her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was killed there, she didn’t return for several years. Recently, she decided to come to terms with the country her father given his life for.

Saro-Wiwa travels from the exuberant chaos of ...

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Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

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Noo Saro-Wiwa was brought up in England, but every summer she was dragged back to visit her father in Nigeria — a country she viewed as an annoying parallel universe where she had to relinquish all her creature comforts and sense of individuality. After her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was killed there, she didn’t return for several years. Recently, she decided to come to terms with the country her father given his life for.

Saro-Wiwa travels from the exuberant chaos of Lagos to the calm beauty of the eastern mountains; from the eccentricity of a Nigerian dog show to the decrepit kitsch of the Transwonderland Amusement Park. She explores Nigerian Christianity, delves into the country’s history of slavery, examines the corrupting effect of oil, and ponders the huge success of Nollywood.

She finds the country as exasperating as ever, and frequently despairs at the corruption and inefficiency she encounters. But she also discovers that it si far more beautiful and varied than she had ever imagined, with its captivating thick tropical rainforest and ancient palaces and monuments. Most engagingly of all, she introduces us to the many people she meets, and gives us hilarious insights into the African character, its passion, wit and ingenuity.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…the remarkable chronicle of a journey home from exile.
—Joshua Hammer
From the Publisher

Praise for Looking for Transwonderland

"The remarkable chronicle of a journey home from exile." —The New York Times Book Review

"The daughter of slain Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa revisits her homeland as an adult in this absorbing tour of that complex African country…As she tours the country and gets to know people from its many ethnic groups, she gains a better understanding of and appreciation for Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa is a sharp and insightful guide, giving readers an intimate look at the varied regions that comprise this fascinating country." —Booklist (Starred)

"The author allows her love-hate relationship with Nigeria to flavor this thoughtful travel journal, lending it irony, wit and frankness."—Kirkus

Library Journal
Experience the chaos of Nigeria through the eyes of Saro-Wiwa, the daughter of the famed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the Nigerian government. Saro-Wiwa grew up in England, though she returned every summer to Nigeria, a place she loathed because it took her away from her comfortable lifestyle. As an adult, Saro-Wiwa found herself wondering about her homeland, the country for which her father gave his life, and decided to return. Enlivened by charismatic characters, bus ride infomercials, abandoned amusement parks, corruption, and gorgeous rain forests, Saro-Wiwa's memoir is as much a tale of frustration as it is a journey of discovery. VERDICT This engaging, fast-paced jaunt through more than a dozen regions of Nigeria is full of adventure and honesty. Saro-Wiwa writes beautifully of her homeland and family, opening this world up for outsiders. Recommended for those who love experiencing new countries in the pages of a book, fans of memoir, and anyone interested in contemporary Nigeria.—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
Kirkus Reviews
A Nigerian-born English journalist makes peace with the land that killed her father. Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian nonviolent political activist campaigning against government corruption and environmental degradation when he was falsely accused by the military regime and executed in 1995. His daughter Noo, a twin to her sister, Zina, born in 1976 and educated in England and the United States, maintained a mostly antagonistic relationship toward the land of her Ogoni parents, who sent the children on summer holidays back to the family compound where the heat, disorder, lack of running water and electricity consumed the author with dread. Now a young woman self-admittedly spoiled by the amenities of English life, the author allows her love-hate relationship with Nigeria to flavor this thoughtful travel journal, lending it irony, wit and frankness, yet also an undertone of bitterness. Starting in Lagos, staying at the home of her mother's friend, she was overwhelmed by the noise and tumult of the city, teeming with 300-odd ethnic groups that were miraculously not worn down by quotidian inconveniences such as five-hour commutes, poorly paid jobs ($2 at most per day) and a constant need for haggling and hustling to make ends meet. Indeed, a Pentecostal faith inspired many Nigerians, rendering them by one account the happiest people in the world. From Lagos, "feral and impenetrable," Saro-Wiwa trekked through Nigerian land and history, to the university town of Ibadan, the modern urban metropolis of Abuja, Kano and the Islamic northern recesses, national parks and nature preserves, civic-minded Calabar and formerly glorious Benin, before facing the "tense oil-city" and difficult childhood memories of Port Harcourt. A vigorous, scathing look at Nigeria then and now.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781619020078
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 995,437
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Noo Saro-Wiwa was born in Nigeria in 1976 and raised in England. She attended King’s College London and Columbia University in New York. She currently lives in London.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 1


1 Centre of Excellence 11

2 Oil and People on Water 37

3 Total Formula for Victory Over the Hardships of Life 58


4 Under the Light of Fading Stars 84

5 Transwonderland 98


6 In the Chop House 110

7 Spiderman, Rock Stars and Gigolos 126


8 Straddling Modernity's Kofar 140

Nguru and Yankari

9 Where are those Stupid Animals? 163


10 Hidden Legacies 182

Maiduguri and Sukur

11 Kingdom of Heaven 193


12 Masquerade Mischief 206

Cross River State

13 Spiling Nature's Spoils 232


14 Behind the Mask 246

Port Harcourt

15 Tending the Backyard 270


16 Truth and Reconciliation 297

Epilogue 306

Acknowledgements 310

Sources 311

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Noo Saro-Wiwa, Author of Looking for Transwonderland
How did your idea of the book evolve as you wrote it?
Initially I had wanted to explore Nigeria as a tourist and separate myself from the family stuff, but that was obviously impossible to achieve. I ended up adding more family anecdotes, so it became part memoir. I also expanded on Nigeria's history and cultural background more than intended, to give non-Nigerian readers some context.
What was your writing process like, converting your travel journal into a memoir?
I would write or record all my observations and conversations with people, then religiously transcribe and email them to myself every night so as not to lose them. I didn't start writing the book until I returned to England. As it is chronological non-fiction it was fairly easy to expand my notes into prose.
Each place I visited bore some significance or relation to my memories and family history, so it was quite easy to meld the memoir with the travel journal. The writing experience was emotionally gruelling, though. It dredged up some old memories, and there were a couple of nights when I dreamed about my late father and brother, which is rare for me, and somewhat draining.
Have you returned to Nigeria since finishing the book?
I'm attending a literary festival there this year, which will be my first visit since writing Transwonderland. Nigeria has changed quite a bit in the last five years, so I'm looking forward to going back.
How did you find weighing the relative "pros" and "cons" of Nigeria in terms of offering readers the most balanced and fair perspectives? Did you go into it with both sides in mind, or did you find yourself surprised at your reaction?
Presenting a balanced view isn't something I consciously felt I had to do. There are good sides and bad sides to any place, and as long as you keep your eyes and mind open it's impossible not to see both.
I anticipated the good and the bad, but there were things I unexpectedly disliked about Nigeria, as well as things I surprisingly liked - such as the indigenous culture, which I had previously been indifferent towards.
I should add that travel writing is a subjective genre. Transwonderland is about my trip and my feelings and biases (which I lay clearly on the table for the reader). It's not a "book about Nigeria" so much as a book about my personal experiences around the country. I think most readers recognise the difference.
What's next for you?
South Africa, hopefully. Years ago I wrote a book about my travels there, but I turned down a publishing deal for it. I'd like to revisit the country and write another book.
Who have you discovered lately?
I'm currently reading Chinua Achebe's There was A Country, a page-turning personal memoir of Nigeria's Biafran civil war. I recently stumbled across William Makepeace Thackeray's The Book of Snobs, a hilarious collection of essays about snobbery in Victorian England. I've also enjoyed Instead of a Book, a collection of correspondences between literary editor Diana Athill and her friend over a 30-year period. There's only one thing more interesting than an intelligent, adventurous person and that's an old, intelligent adventurous person - Athill and Achebe have lived long, rich lives.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 1 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    To jesse

    Ur supposed to go to whoa res. 4 she got locked out.

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