This sweeping novel is an indictment of the corruption, violence and inhumanity that spews from the very top of society. Set in Nigeria, “land of the happiest people on earth”, it paints a disturbing picture of life, even before the grisly plot gets going.
The book takes aim at the elites and the political system that serves them. An ongoing saga is the re‑election campaign of Sir Goddie, and the machinations of his hangers-on.
The main characters are trying to cope with the horrors generated by this system—and to change it.
Duoyle, an engineer, is a “busybody” trying to unearth the truth about events the powerful hoped were safely covered up. One of his closest friends, Doctor Menka, operates on amputee victims of Boko Haram, and women who have suffered sexual violence.
Soyinka is blunt about what this means. He describes how some justify sex with young girls by referring to religion. “End of discourse. End of innocence. Beginning of vaginal fistula.”
There are many other striking descriptions of casual violence, such as the cop pointing a gun “calmly, deliberately, at the head of the unbelieving statistic”. Soyinka’s writing is compelling, and especially chilling when he points to how the system really works.
Goddie learns from Papa Davina, a self-styled religious guru, details of an assassination after the fact. Goddie remarks indignantly, “I am supposed to be the prime minister.”
Davina responds, “And so you are, but you cannot oversee everything. You are only here for... maximum eight years? We are here forever.”
The plot at the heart of the novel is Menka’s discovery of a secret trade in body parts running from his hospital. When he confides this to Duyole, they are both in danger.
There are many surprises and a brilliant shocker just a page from the end. Menka and Duyole are from privileged backgrounds and there’s a danger that, by focusing so much on the top of society, ordinary people are absent.
They only seem to appear as victims or perpetrators of violence—or as gullible dupes.
So the book might not leave you with a lot of hope that things can be changed. But it is still an impressive—and entertaining—howl of rage against a barbaric system.