Nobelesse oblige

Rupa Books is to be congratulated for bringing out Onitsha, an important work of this year's Nobel laureate, J. M. G. Le Clézio who is one of France’s best-known contemporary writers. Onitsha has been translated by Alison Anderson, and it was first published by the University of Nebraska Press in 1997.

"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.

In the words of translator Alison Anderson, Onitsha is remarkable for its almost mythological evocation of local history and beliefs. It is full of atmosphere—sights, sounds, smells —and at times the author’s sentences seem to flow with the dreamy languor of the river itself. But J. M. G. Le Clézio never lets us forget the harsh realities of life nor the subsequent tragedy of war. 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 book- and the author- have been widely praised. Because of the prohibitive prices, the US editions have not been widely available in India. "The most surprising work of Le Clézio’s long career, and one of his best."—Kirkus. “Readers will not forget this novel.”—Library Journal. “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.

A part of the Rupa France series. 212 pages, Paperback. Rs 295.