Oil on Water

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“The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best.”—Emmanuel Dongala
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists—a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq—are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a ...
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Oil on Water

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Overview

“The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best.”—Emmanuel Dongala
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists—a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq—are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended consequences.
As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells, in search of “the white woman,” they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the “truth” about the woman’s disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.

2012 PEN Open Book Award Runner-up

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Habila's stirring third novel (after Measuring Time), a pair of Nigerian reporters are dispatched to find the kidnapped wife of a British oil executive. Young Rufus and his disgraced mentor, Zaq, track the wife's captors—guerrilla forces fighting against the petroleum industry and its government allies—through the lush Nigerian delta, wandering along oil-slicked rivers, villages destroyed by war, and communities evicted by a land-hungry oil company. Rufus, whose own family has been shattered by the oil industry's machinations, bears witness to pointless cruelties inflicted by both sides of the conflict and the suffering of a population uprooted and set adrift on a desecrated landscape. The novel is a cinematic adventure and a remarkably tense race against the clock set in a haunting world of mangroves, floating villages, and jungle shrines—but it is also a brooding political tragedy in the Graham Greene tradition, one that illustrates the environmental and human costs of resource extraction in corrupt, postcolonial Africa. The delta and its people are rendered with insight and sensitivity, but also an unsparing sense of irony; indeed, it's a credit to Habila's storytelling that his mournful vision of the world never eclipses its fragile beauty, or its humanity. (May)
The Independent
“Habila has a filmic ability to etch scenes on the imagination.”
From the Publisher

Starred Review. "A cinematic adventure and a remarkably tense race against the clock…rendered with insight and sensitivity, but also an unsparing sense of irony; indeed, it’s a credit to Habila’s storytelling that his mournful vision of the world never eclipses its fragile beauty, or its humanity." - Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "In a beautiful, almost cinematic style, Habila moves back and forth in time to tell a story swathed in the cynicism of modern global development and the mysteries of human longing." - Booklist

"Richard Allen’s deep, rich voice makes the characters come to life...his pacing is perfect, and his diction always clear. This is a compelling story well read and worth hearing." - AudioFile

"The narration from multiple Audie Award-nominated Richard Allen has an almost lyrical quality, immersing readers in the tale." - Library Journal

"[A] thrilling, fast paced read and also an elegiac meditation on the destructive force of greed and the fragility of hope...Habila is a skilful narrator and a master of structure." - The Telegraph

"Habila's primary characters breathe and his plot mesmerizes...what leaves the most profound impression is his stunning evocation of this violated landscape...a powerful work, one that reaffirms that art done well is always big enough to contain politics, too." - Orion Magazine

"[A] powerful, accomplished third novel." - The Observer

"[A] lean, evocative novel… a classic coming-of-age narrative." - The Daily Mail

"…an excellent piece of literature…definitely worth buying." - The Socialist

"Habila has a filmic ability to etch scenes on the imagination." - The Independent

"...topical and urgent...powerful..." - The Guardian

"The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best." - Emmanuela Dongla

Library Journal
In this latest novel from Nigerian-born Habila (Measuring Time), winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Waiting for an Angel as well as the Caine Prize for African Writing, journalists Rufus and his idol, the has-been Zaq, hunt through the polluted Niger delta for the wife of a British oil executive—and for the big story that will save their careers. The local militants use kidnapping to fund a war with the Nigerian army and the international oil companies, whose activities have polluted the delta waters and displaced entire villages. As they navigate the rivers of the delta, with its devastated villages, army bases, and rebel camps under the shadow of the gas flares that light up the sky, and witness the awful violence and environmental destruction, the two men eventually find themselves in search of their own lives. VERDICT The accessible writing style and the focus on personal stories will appeal to a wide range of American readers, including those new to African fiction. And while Oil on Water lacks the level of historical and cultural background found in works by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, readers will find much to appreciate here.—Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland, St. Mary's City
Kirkus Reviews

While searching for a foreign hostage, two reporters witness the despoliation of Nigeria in Habila's (Measuring Time, 2007, etc.) latest, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.

The stink of oil and the orange light of gas flares emanate from this graphic account of a nation ruined by the extraction of its natural resources, in a narrative that is part political diatribe, part detective story. The quest to find Isabel Floode, the kidnapped wife of a white petroleum engineer, lures journalist Rufus and his older colleague Zaq out of Port Harcourt into the liquid landscape of the Niger delta, where beauty and subsistence have fallen victim to ecological nightmare and the violent clash between the military and the militants. Rufus is the lens through which Habila exposes the horrific landscape of poisoned wildlife and deserted villages, and the hopelessness of the people, robbed of their land, squeezed between avaricious forces. Witnessing scenes of massacre, migration and strange worship, Rufus remains unscathed even when abducted by a crazed soldier named the Major and then the rebel leader, the Professor. Finding Isabel, and also a love interest for himself, his journey ends in unconvincing optimism.

Dreamy, criss-crossed with flashbacks and pipelines, a memorable if heavily delineated parable of the dispossessed.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141046846
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 9/28/2011

Meet the Author

Helon Habila is the internationally renowned author of Waiting for an Angel, which won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Caine Prize for African Writing, and Measuring Time and Oil on Water. He was born in Nigeria and now divides his time between America and Nigeria.
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