Monday, July 30, 2012

REVIEW: Oil on Water, by Helon Habila

Oil on Water, by Helon Habila. Published 2010 by W.W. Norton. Literary Fiction.

Oil on Water is a fascinating, often brutal story about the effect of the oil industry on the Nigerian delta, as told through the eyes of Rufus, a journalist on a perilous journey to find Isabel Floode, an Englishwoman who has been taken hostage by a gang of militants in an effort to extort money from her husband, an oil executive. Rufus travels with Zaq, a disgraced reporter, and things don't go very well.

Along the way, Helon Habila mixes in stories of how both men came to this point in their lives, including the influence of the most important women in each man's life. For Rufus that would be his sister Boma, disfigured in an oil fire and abandoned by her fiancĂ©. Zaq's great love falls victim to drugs, and then there's Isabel herself and her own tragic story. Rufus and Zaq suffer many setbacks on their journey; violence and illness, privation and danger stalk them heartlessly.  By the end, it's not really clear how anybody will come out on the other side.

I really enjoyed Oil on Water for the suspense and the meditations on life and love, and the insight into some of the problems created by the oil industry. I can't say that the political rhetoric was very surprising perhaps because the tale Habila tells is all too familiar, a story of greed and corruption and naivete and the kind of short sightedness that can happen when too much change happens too quickly.  I would recommend Oil on Water for those interested in social issues and in African fiction. I didn't love it but I enjoyed it well enough and I think it's a strong read that many readers will enjoy.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.