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Buy Dangerous Love from Kalahari. In urban Nigeria of the late s, where American disco think afros and bell-bottoms and high-life fashions are the order of the day, his clean-shaven scalp gives the young artist a strange, haunted look which immediately marks him as outsider. His neighbours and friends repeatedly ask him whether he is in mourning, which he vehemently denies. Unemployment is rife, violence is prevalent and a menacing atmosphere permeates the air. Secret societies indulge in sinister practices.
The occult and spirit world are present in the lives of characters — spirit children, strange dreams and a ritual murder are some of the things Omovo is confronted with during the course of the novel. At the same time it is a defiant act which allows him to take some small measure of ownership of his identity as an artist. It is a signifier which lets him announce his individuality and displays his recognition of the impact of powerful, rebellious visual statements.
Omovo is his own canvas, so to speak, and his art becomes the only means through which he can empower himself in this fraught society.
Lastly, but most crucially and despite his denials to the contrary , Omovo is most certainly a man in mourning — and will remain one for the duration of this tale. He mourns for his long-suffering and abused dead mother, for his truculent, cash-strapped, alcoholic father, for his two banished brothers, for the deplorable state of the nation, and, most certainly, for his own overwhelming sense of purposelessness.
Forced to drop out of school without completing his final exams due to lack of funds Omovo is employed as a clerk in a chemical supply company — a job he abhors for its boredom and for the climate of corruption he finds himself inhabiting. His quietly defiant displays of moral rectitude he stubbornly refuses to succumb to the bribing tactics of clients and stand-offishness make him unpopular as a co-worker. His boss is eager to be rid of him and replace him with a down and out nephew willing to display the obsequiousness required of this type of entry-level position.
His father has booted his two rebellious brothers out. These two young men send cryptic letters home hinting at sordid lives at sea as stowaways and sailors. There are lurid descriptions of filthy communal bathrooms in the compound. Squalor and lack of privacy are emphasised, as well as the hunger for scandal and gossip among commune dwellers.
Yet Okri does balance this bleak view with some charming and jolly interactions between these down-and-out neighbours. It is not all Sturm und Drang , though everyone seems to be hanging on by a very thin thread. The two things that thus keep Omovo going in this depressing state are his clandestine friendship with Ifeyiwa, a beautiful young married woman living in a neighbouring compound with her possessive husband, Takpo, and his art work.
Mentored by a kindly Igbo signwriter cum painter, Doctor Okocha, Omovo uses drawing and painting to express and grapple with his angst and overwhelming sense of alienation and ennui.
His relationship with Ifeyiwa, who had been ripped away from her schooling and forced into an arranged marriage by her impoverished family, offers both young people a modicum of emotional and intellectual solace.
They discuss books, poetry and art. They find themselves to be kindred spirits and develop a passionate bond. While they know their love is doomed, they cannot stay away from each other.
Ifeyiwa, even more so than Omovo, cuts a tragic figure: warm, passionate and intelligent, she is trapped in a loveless and abusive union with an intractable and jealous man.
Both these men are bullies who take out their feeling of disempowerment and humiliation on those they deem weaker than themselves. In fact, all his central characters are complex, multifaceted and interesting.
The novel is ambitious in its scope and complex in its rendering. The latter make for difficult, and at times laborious, reading. There is also some fascinating inter-textual interplay. Like Omovo, that protagonist refuses to take bribes, and suffers the consequences. Like Omovo, he quietly endures, but with constantly eroding fortitude. It is interesting to note that in one of the last few chapters of Dangerous Love , Omovo works on a painting of a young victim of a ritual murder he and Keme had horrifyingly stumbled upon in a city park.
He considers naming the painting The Beautiful Ones , but then reconsiders. While Dangerous Love is not without its flaws, it is a haunting tale that both effectively dissects post-war Nigerian society and poses some interesting questions about the role of the artist in a ravaged world.
While a love story lies at its core, its scope and themes are more far-reaching. Most chillingly, it reflects and echoes many of the problems we face in South African society today: corruption, a disaffected youth, high unemployment figures, artistic and media censorship, violence against women, and the struggles of traditionalism versus modernism.
It could be said that a novel like this should serve as a prophetic warning, but unfortunately, here in South Africa we may already be too deep in the quagmire. The rot has set in. Teken in op LitNet se gratis weeklikse nuusbrief.
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