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Oil on Water: A Novel Paperback – May 16, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Habila has a filmic ability to etch scenes on the imagination.” (The Independent)

“Starred Review. A cinematic adventure and a remarkably tense race against the clock set in a haunting world of mangroves, floating villages, and jungle shrines—but it is also a brooding political tragedy in the Graham Greene tradition, one that illustrates the environmental and human costs of resource extraction in corrupt, postcolonial Africa….his mournful vision of the world never eclipses its fragile beauty, or its humanity.” (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Helon Habila is the internationally renowned author of Waiting for an Angel, which won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Caine Prize for African Writing, and Measuring Time and Oil on Water. He was born in Nigeria and now divides his time between America and Nigeria.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 239 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (May 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393339645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393339642
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on May 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Rufus, a young journalist on his first major assignment, travels into the troubled oil-rich Nigerian Delta, hoping to land his breakthrough news story: interviewing the kidnappers of a British oil engineer's wife and proving that the captive is alive. The dangers lurking among the oilfields and the pipelines that meander snake-like across the Delta's waters cannot deter him, especially as he is in the company of his much-admired former mentor, the erstwhile prominent reporter, Zaq. Helon Habila's new novel, "Oil on Water" is a confidently crafted and absorbing, in parts totally gripping, chronicle of human ambitions, tragedies and failures, but also of love, friendship and perseverance of the human spirit. Evoking the rich and beautiful yet fragile environment of the Delta, that is slowly being devastated by the greed for oil and money, Habila perceptively guides his different narrative strands into a poignant story that is profoundly personal even where he raises broader political and societal concerns.

Habila weaves his story in a non-chronological way: it flows back and forth in time, reflecting the reporters' meandering voyage through the vast intricate river delta. We first meet Rufus and Zaq on the ninth day of their quest. In flashbacks we learn about their back stories and, over time, that of other memorable characters. Past events are hinted at early on... Now, they are on their own, traveling by slow canoe, dependent for guidance and safety on a local fisherman and his young son to find a safe place to stay while charting their next steps. However, their time among the mangroves and later on a very special island of worshippers, is suddenly interrupted... and they have to leave their journalist role behind and use all their talents to stay alive.
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Oil on Water is the masterful third novel by Helon Habila, and once again the author tackles another timely topic, this time the deadly politics of oil in the Niger Delta. The wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped by a group of militants, and this in itself is not necessarily newsworthy as it is a common enough occurrence in the region with its own rules for the exchange of monies and the release of the kidnapped person. As journalists are usually involved to help facilitate the process, Rufus, a young journalist, takes the assignment to find "the white woman", as he senses this could be his big break. He is excited to work with his mentor, Zaq, a once-renowned journalist who has fallen from grace and now lives in an alcoholic haze. But, a seemingly routine event takes an unexpected turn which leads Rufus and Zaq on a life-threatening and introspective journey. Through this adventure, both Rufus and the reader will be often reminded of Zaq's sage advice, "Remember, the story is not always the final goal."

One of the strengths of this enthralling story is the unfolding of the tale through Rufus' memory that is often patchy and hallucinatory matching it to the environment with its twists and turns in the river, and the hidden islands appearing and disappearing before your eyes. This provides a cinematic quality as the scenes are vividly painted for the reader, making the Niger Delta as much a character as Rufus and Zaq. The expert storytelling allows the reader to feel empathy for the characters that live in an environment where often who is the good guy and who is the bad guy is dependent on the breathtaking tricks of chance that can result in life or death in a second.
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The images and shifting timelines flow smoothly; a difficult skill the author has mastered. The journalists, much like the country, live through stages that reflect hope, challenge and despair. One having lived the life of success and promise while the other comes to terms with reality after unbridled optimism. A parallel to the potential and reality of life in a country given the promise of oil riches yet polluted and impoverished from this gift.
I love the way the story ends, or better yes, how it does not; much like the flowing water in the story.
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(4.5 stars) In his third novel, award-winning Nigerian author Helon Habila continues the dialogue he began with Waiting for an Angel, a novel set in the 1990s during the government of Sani Abacha, a tyrant who used his military for his own ends. Abacha allowed no hint of dissent, and journalists were routinely jailed and held without trial. As a result, Nigeria was expelled from the Commonwealth of Nations, and most of the free world enacted sanctions against it. When Oil on Water opens, ten years have passed. Sanctions have been lifted, but Nigeria's elected government officials and the military are still colluding with the oil companies, and all are still getting rich. The poor are still poor-unable to fish in their rivers for food, unable to grow crops on their oil-soaked land, and unable to breathe the air without choking. In opposition to the military and the politicians, a significant rebel movement has now arisen, determined to obtain oil money on their own, and they will do virtually anything to get it.

Here, as in Waiting for an Angel, Helon Habila emphasizes the power of the press to keep people honest--or more honest than they would be without reporters watching and reporting on their actions. Rufus, a young reporter with an uncertain job future, and Zaq, an alcoholic who was once one of the best reporters in the country, are searching for Isabel Floode, the wife of a British petroleum engineer, who has been kidnapped by rebels and held for ransom. Nine days have passed, and all the other journalists looking for her have given up, but these two continue to follow the river in a small canoe, looking for clues and trying to make contact with those who may be holding Mrs. Floode.
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