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The New York Times Book Review…the remarkable chronicle of a journey home from exile.
"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
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
15 Tending the Backyard 270
16 Truth and Reconciliation 297
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.
Posted July 8, 2013