As far as debut novels go, one would be hard pressed to find a tale as beautifully written and thoroughly engaging as that of Nigerian author, Odafe Atogun.
The freshman writer draws on his own experiences growing up under an oppressive regime to tell a wonderful tale that, on its surface, is a story about resistance and sacrifice but, ultimately, is one of love.
Partially based on episodes from the life of Nigerian musician and human rights activist, Fela Kuti, the reader follows exiled musician Taduno as he returns to Lagos to discover that no one remembers him.
Moreover, his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the governmental forces that are still hunting him, and there is no way for him to prove who he claims to be. With the help of his friend, Aroli, music producer TK and his girlfriend’s nephew Judah, Taduno sets out to regain his status as a renowned musician who can – and will – serve as the voice of an oppressed people, while attempting to solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s disappearance.
Atogun’s prose could be deemed narratively simplistic, yet there is something beautiful within his words that will keep readers utterly enthralled throughout the experience. The writer’s use of repetition feels incredibly poetic, almost as though they are beats in Taduno’s song that Atogun himself is composing, showcasing an incredible imagination on the part of the writer.
This power of imagination is prevalent throughout the text, with Taduno’s music treated as force for change in a way that Kuti himself was able to use his own work to oppose the tyranny facing Nigeria during the 1970s and 80s. Similarly, this is true for Atogun himself, who has stated that imagination is what helped him to escape the hardships of his own life.
The novel also broaches complex issues of loyalty to oneself or to those around us as Taduno must decide whether to oppose the oppression he is witnessing or obey in order to protect those he loves. These issues are handled expertly by Atogun and demonstrate that he is a writer with untold potential.
Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun (Canongate, 2016)
Photo credit: Stephen Niemeier