Onitsha

Onitsha

by J. M. G. Le Clezio
     
 

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Onitsha tells the story of Fintan, a youth who travels to Africa in 1948 with his Italian mother to join the English father he has never met. Fintan is initially enchanted by the exotic world he discovers in Onitsha, a bustling city prominently situated on the eastern bank of the Niger River. But gradually he comes to recognize the intolerance and brutality

Overview


Onitsha tells the story of Fintan, a youth who travels to Africa in 1948 with his Italian mother to join the English father he has never met. Fintan is initially enchanted by the exotic world he discovers in Onitsha, a bustling city prominently situated on the eastern bank of the Niger River. But gradually he comes to recognize the intolerance and brutality of the colonial system. His youthful point of view provides the novel with a notably direct, horrified perspective on racism and colonialism.
 
In the words of translator Alison Anderson, Onitsha is remarkable for its “almost mythological evocation of local history and beliefs.” It is full of atmosphere—sights, sounds, smells —and at times the author’s sentences seem to flow with the dreamy languor of the river itself. But J. M. G. Le Clézio “never lets us forget the harsh realities of life nor the subsequent tragedy of war.” A startling account—and indictment—of colonialism, Onitsha is also a work of clear, forthright prose that ably portrays both colonial Nigeria and a young boy’s growing outrage.

Editorial Reviews

Michigan Quarterly Review

Onitsha also includes a scathing critique of colonialism, through the voice of Maou, who increasingly speaks out against the ways the white masters treat the locals. . . . Le Clézio’s writing always moves back toward the richness and the responsibilities of the present, highlighting the necessity of undergoing a veritable apprenticeship enabling one to experience the present fully. His fiction, whose scenes and details usually stand at only a slight remove from the facts of his own life, is thereby warmly personal in tone and thoroughly credible in effect.”—Michigan Quarterly Review
Boston Book Review

“Le Clézio gives an admirably full portrait of day-to-day life in Africa, from animistic religions, to food, to street festivals. And his presentation of the last queen of Meroë and her search for a promised land gives an epic frame to the continental vision he presents.”—Boston Book Review

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Critical Inquiry
thomasriggs.net/blog/index.php/2009/11/eyes-on-the-prize/
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1948, a 12-year-old boy named Fintan is sailing to Africa with his Italian mother to live with the British father he doesn't remember. At times, this French novel paints too precious a picture of the young Fintan and his mother, who occasionally writes down poetic bits like "In my hands I hold the prey of silence." The ship's voyage can drag, too, with too many hints about the characters' previous lives (upon learning that Fintan has contracted scabies, his mother cries out "A barnyard disease!"). But once the pair arrive in Onitsha, in Nigeria, Fintan's views of the colonial situation and the different ways that Europeans adapt to their surroundings prove fresh and valuable, though suffused with the unworldly morality of the innocent. He befriends Bony, the son of a fisherman, who teaches him a new way of seeing nature. The relationship between Fintan's parents crackles with difficulty as they attempt to readjust to each another after their long separation and as his mother strains against local customs. At a dinner party hosted by a man who has commissioned prisoners to dig a swimming pool, Fintan's mother insists that the chained prisoners be allowed something to eat and drink. Her request is met, but she is then ostracized by polite society. Eventually, Fintan's father loses his job with the United Africa Company and moves the family first to London, then to the south of France. Overall, this novel is choppy, but it generates waves that startle and surprise, and that push the reader from one page to the next. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Often, looking through youthful eyes focuses readers directly on the brutal truths of such unsavory issues as racism. In this latest translation of a work by noted French author Le Clzio (following The Prospector, Godine, 1993), young Fintan realizes the horrors of racist, colonial society as he journeys with his much-beloved mother to Africa in 1948 to join his father, an agent for a trading company. Even before their ship has arrived, Fintan is becoming aware of Western intolerance of African people, beliefs, and language. The novel offers a compelling contrast between white mistreatment of Africans and the occasionally dangerous natural beauty surrounding the village of Onitsha on the banks of the Niger River. Fintan never forgets the harsh facts of his childhood years, and readers will not forget this novel.Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon, Eugene

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803279667
Publisher:
UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
04/28/1997
Pages:
206
Sales rank:
1,200,718
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 9.00(d)

Meet the Author


Winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, J. M. G. Le Clézio was born in Nice in 1940 and is one of France’s best-known contemporary writers. He has published more than thirty novels and nonfiction works. In the course of the last four decades Le Clézio has won numerous prizes, including the Prix Renaudot for his first novel. His works have been translated into many languages.
 
Alison Anderson is the author of Hidden Latitudes. She has worked as a writer, translator, and teacher and currently lives in Mill Valley, California.

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