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Probably 60% of the books in the Heinemanns African Writers Series offer some kind of coming of age in a changing Africa and/or coming to terms with expatriate/refugee existence somewhere in the worlds hard to reach affluent countries. Ike Oguine contributes a mature, unsentimental and quick-reading novel to this collection. Oguine avoids preciousness, folklore and self-pity, which is awesome. In fact, his protagonist (Its hard not to assume this is an extremely auto-biographical piece) is far more agreeable for the straightforward way that he owns his character flaws. Hes dishonest, opportunistic at the expense of other people and a bit of a non-producing tag-along. His lack of grandeur or tragedy protects his novel from the crushing weight of characters who are supposed to represent whole nations and generations. Granted, he does propose a theory about his generation, their greediness and poorly-focused vision; but it was a fairly fresh and non-self-flagellating observation and it had none of the annoying tragicness of the Ngugis and Achebes, to say nothing of the White South Africans. His way with words is entirely adequate and his dialogue rings true. Hes not a poet; but he doesnt waste words and his text is consistently and bluntly humorous. For a taste:I was amazed at how his mind had completely revised the past like a Stalinist historian, retroactively awarding himself the friendship of people who had never hidden from him their contempt for and derision of him, transforming cynical bastards into nice young men and loyal friends with clean hearts, only a little confused and slightly distracted by matters of the flesh.I suspect his bitter face was responsible for turning Robos mother, a pleasant enough woman, into a gloomy, nervous mound of incompetence. Or;It was somewhat comforting, in this age when you keep running into comparisons between Asian tigers and African laggards, to find an Asian who not developing or bootlegging new software or managing billion dollar investments, but was hopelessly thrashing about in a bog of failure; whose daughters were not precocious superwomen or specialists in some rare branch of medicine, but were regular young women slowly and painfully learning the lessons of love and pain as we all must. This style and lightness (along with the effective temporal resequencing of the plot) makes A Squatters Tale very approachble for audiences of different backgrounds and it does a surprisingly good job of revealing aspects of both Nigerian and Nigerian refugee culture--with minimal stereotyping. Its outsiders perspective on Oakland is also rewarding; it wouldnt hurt people who trash Nigeria to pick this up and see a sympathetic look at things (I kept being reminded of the 2008 U.S. market crash when the narrator describes the hard times impacting Lagos in the early nineties). When I finished the book, I was wondering about how quickly it had passed and how in so relatively few pages and with relatively few narrated events it had managed to cover so much ground. I was not surprised to hear Oguine described as a short story writer; but I sincerely hope he writes another couple of novels. His country could do with a novelist who doesnt just get worse and worse. (You hear me Ben Okri? Get your shit together.)



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