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Onitsha (Collection Folio) [French] [Mass Market Paperback]

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.50
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Book Description

24 Jun 1993 Collection Folio (Book 2472)
Onitsha tells the story of Fintan, a youth who travels to Africa in 1948 with his Italian mother to join the English father he has never met. Fintan is initially enchanted by the exotic world he discovers in Onitsha, a bustling city prominently situated on the eastern bank of the Niger River. But gradually he comes to recognize the intolerance and brutality of the colonial system. His youthful point of view provides the novel with a notably direct, horrified perspective on racism and colonialism.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Editions Flammarion (24 Jun 1993)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 2070387267
  • ISBN-13: 978-2070387267
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 10.2 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,406,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Mentioned in The New York Times (Paperback Row) December 28, 2008 "Le Clezio is an intensely atmospheric, nearly hallucinatory writer, and in his riveting and eviscerating short stories, dreams turn inexorably into nightmares." --Booklist --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

J.M.G. Le Clezio, one of France's best-known contemporary writers, was born in Nice in 1940 and has published more than twenty novels and non-fiction works. In the course of the last three decades Le Clezio has won numerous prizes, including Prix Renaudot for his first novel. His works have been translated into many languages. His most recent works translated into English include the novel The Prospector and a collection of essays, The Mexican Dream. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Simple but Honest view of Africa 9 Dec 2009
Onitsha by 2008 Nobel prize winner in literature, J M G Clezio, was a surprisingly pleasant read. When I started it, I didn't mean to finish it. Just browse. But in five hours I had gone through it, right up to the end. It's an honest, if a limited account of Africa. Rather, it is more an African experience by a European, than a book about Africa.

Onitsha is the story of a European child, Fintan, who is migrating to the Nigerian town of Onitsha. It begins with the journey on the ship Surabaya. Clezio descries all the small ports and towns minutely. We flow along with Surabaya, keeping Africa at a distance, but never losing sight of it. We feel its strangeness, its frightening otherness, but also its irresistible charm.

After arriving at Onitsha, Africa overwhelms Fintan and Maou, his mother, as well as the reader. Clezio then writes about the usual European experience of languor and lethargy of Africa. The descriptions of Niger River are full of it. Losing the sense of time; feeling the lethargy of Africa; absorbing the vast stillness of a strange continent. We feel it all in the works of Doris Lessing and J M Coetzee too, but for Clezio it is neither lethal, like is it for Lessing, nor is it sense-numbing, like it is in Coetzee's works. Unlike Coetzee and Lessing, Clezio falls for the dreamlike languor of Africa and the Niger River. Everything from rain to wind comes alive and the reader starts looking at Africa in a way which is similar to that of a native.

Here is an example:

"All at once she understood what she had learned in coming here, to Onitsha, and what she could never have learned elsewhere.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Memoirs or fictional accounts of childhood experiences in Africa have become popular in recent years, in particular by Africans having escaped the horrors of war. They express a need to reconnect with their roots and its lasting influence on their lives. JMG Le Clézio's fictional treatment of his own formative time in Nigeria as a child has resulted in this powerful and alluring novel. Written in 1991 with the hindsight of historical events, most of the narrative is set against the harsh realities of colonial Nigeria in 1948/49 where revolts against the British had been increasing and, at least for one protagonist, the "end of the empire" was already in the cards. The story concludes twenty years later at the time of the brutal Biafra war, fought by the then independent Nigeria. In a lucid, yet often poetic language Le Clézio effortlessly blends an intimate portrait of his young hero, Fintan, his family and the personal challenges they confront with a sweeping impressionistic depiction of a real, yet also mystical place in its cultural and historical context.

During the month-long sea voyage from France to the remote Nigerian town of Onitsha, the twelve-year old Fintan experiences a rainbow of emotions: joyous anticipation as well as anxiety about their new home, homesickness and, above all, a sense dread of the father he never knew. The intimate relationship to his mother, Maou, short for Marie-Luisa, may be under threat in the new circumstances. Maou, Italian-born and desperate to leave her difficult life of prejudice behind, dreams of an Africa that is wild, idyllic and beautiful. It will also finally reunite her with her beloved husband.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Onitsha 21 Feb 2009
This is the first novel I read by J.M.G Le Clezio and I must say I found it to be quite different from anything I have ever read. Despite it being quite short, it is very deep and I feel that I missed a lot of the underlying themes. I don't think this should put anyone off though, instead it should be embraced and enjoyed especially when being read more than once!
Fintan and his mother, Maou, travel from France to Nigeria to a small, hidden-away village which goes by the mysterious & exotic name of Onitsha. The description of the sea-voyage itself is captivating and I am not exaggerating when I say that I almost felt I was making the voyage myself. The whole novel is written in descriptive language which at times seems very mythical and dream-like, especially during descriptions of ancient traditions and rituals and when depicting the fascination Geoffrey (Maou's husband)has for Africa. There is a distinct difference in the way Maou interacts with the locals compared to the colonialists already living there; this serves to illustrate the negativity associated with colonialism,the way it disrupts and destroys the local life and customs.
I recommend this book to serious readers who will be able to fully enjoy it and understand it (as the language is moderately challenging and long descriptions do constitute most of the book) and manage to get the most out of it.
The reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5 is because I found some paragraphs to be too abstract for my taste, all about'mythology' and traditions and furthermore Oya herself was quite disturbing and strange in my opinion(which is part of her allure I guess but it still served to alienate me )
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