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Onitsha Hardcover – 1 Feb 1997

3.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; Reprint edition (1 Feb. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803229151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803229150
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,545,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Le Clzio gives an admirably full portrait of day-to-day life in Africa, from animistic religions, to food, to street festivals. And his presentation of the last queen of Mero and her search for a promised land gives an epic frame to the continental vision he presents."-Boston Book Review

"[Onitsha] offers a compelling contrast between the white mistreatment of Africans and the occasionally dangerous natural beauty surrounding the village of Onitsha on the banks of the Niger River. Fintan never forgets the harsh facts of his childhood years, and readers will not forget this novel."-Library Journal

"Onitsha also includes a scathing critique of colonialism, through the voice of Maou, who increasingly speaks out against the ways the white masters treat the locals. . . . Le Clzio's writing always moves back toward the richness and the responsibilities of the present, highlighting the necessity of undergoing a veritable apprenticeship enabling one to experience the present fully. His fiction, whose scenes and details usually stand at only a slight remove from the facts of his own life, is thereby warmly personal in tone and thoroughly credible in effect."-Michigan Quarterly Review

"Once again J. M. G. Le Clezio, a novelist fascinated by the non-Western and an anthropologist respecting the Other, takes readers to a site that destroys Westerners; that is, the site either encourages their most egregious exploitative colonialism or puts them in the thrall of difference. The latter happens when the new non-Western environment casts a spell severing the Westerners from their own kind but keeping a barrier between them and the natives. . . . An expertly managed piece of professional fiction-writing, but a little hard to take seriously."-Marilyn Gaddis Rose, World Literature Today

"An uncharacteristically accessible and dramatic narrative about Europeans in Africa from one of the avatars of the French New Wave novel. . . . Fintan's fascinated absorption into Onitsha's tribal culture, described with irresistible sensuous immediacy, is expertly counterpointed against his father's self-destructive obsession with Africa's legendary past-and convincingly motivates a criticism of the injustices of white colonialism that is all the more powerful for its seamless coexistence with a richly imagined story and consistently engaging characters. The most surprising work of Le Clzio's long career, and one of his best."-Kirkus

From the Back Cover

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. A startling account - and indictment - of colonialism, Onitsha is also a work of clear, forthright prose that ably portrays both colonial Nigeria and a young boy's growing outrage.|The Surabaya, an aging three-hundred-ton ship of the Holland Africa Line, had just left the dirty waters of the Gironde estuary, bound for the west coast of Africa, and Fintan looked at his mother as if it were for the first time.

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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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