Friday, May 5, 2017

Taduno's Song, by Odafe Atogun

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun's debut novel is a moving and sorrowful story of tragic love and political oppression. 

Taduno has been exiled from his homeland of Nigeria. A guitarist and singer, capable of making the most beautiful music, he is seen as a threat to the state. His most effective songs, celebrated by the people, are protest songs against Nigeria's repressive government, led by a brutal dictator, the President. One day he receives a letter from his girlfriend, Lela, who has mysteriously gone missing. The letter prompts Taduno to return to Nigeria.

Once back in the homeland, a strange thing happens. Everyone has forgotten him, even his friends. No one can even remember his name. Like a character out of a Kafka novel, Taduno seems to have become invisible. Nevertheless, he begins his search for his girlfriend, Lela. He soon discovers that Lela has actually been kidnapped by the government. The President is keeping her incarcerated in terrible conditions. A terrible bargain is proposed: the President will set Lela free if Taduno will agree to make propaganda music to support his ruthless dictatorship.

What should Taduno do? If he supports the regime, many innocent people will die. If he doesn't, his girlfriend will surely die a slow, painful death in prison.

Taduno's Song is the debut novel from Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun. The story is written in a beautifully simple and straight forward manner; it almost reads like a parable from the New Testament. The influence of the Bible certainly comes through in the text, with references to the Upper Room and in the novel's often hypnotic prose. In wrestling with complex moral issues and the terrible choices his characters must make, Atogun delivers his story with grace and dignity.

There is a deep sadness in Taduno's Song. While there is no explicit violence in the novel, an air of   political oppression and suffering permeates every page. It is almost like Atogun has written an elegy for the untold many who have died in jails and gulags, tortured and killed for their commitment to the truth.

Taduno's Song, by Odafe Atogun. Published by Canongate. RRP: $24.99

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