Sunday, May 1, 2011

Doing Dangerously Well by Carole Enahoro

In a dark comedy set in Nigeria in the near future, corruption and greed face off against grassroots resistance. Half a million people die in the flooding when a fifty-year-old dam on the Niger River bursts; TransAqua International seeks to privatize all of the water in Nigeria in the disaster's aftermath. Everyone in the extensive cast of characters stands out vividly larger-than-life.

Barbara Glass, a caucasian American working at Drop of Life in Ottawa to prevent the wholesale of African water rights is one example. "Barbara had sewn herself harem pants for winter. Unfortunately, the thick yellow tweed selected for its warmth also added volume to gathers that should have draped downwards. She looked like a balloon whose only countervailing effect was the balloon on her head -- a turban in light blue she had made from sheets. A turban, she felt, would identify their group for generations to come, much like Che Guevara's beret. [...] She walked into the boardroom, the fabric around her thighs creating a swishing sound, her Black Power pendant rattling against two Celtic necklaces and a brooch in the form of a Nigerian flag. As she entered, she bowed a Namaste to all and sat down, her harem pants puffing up around her waist."

Barbara's sister, Mary, an executive at TransAqua, is masterminding assassinations right and left, along with the Nigerian president. When the sisters unite at their parents' mansion for Thanksgiving, the atmosphere is tense. "In the dining room, each place setting was arranged with prickly attention to detail. The crystal glasses shot off sharp, disapproving glints; the silverware yawned with superiority. Although the candlesticks and vase of flowers framing the centre of the table initially appeared welcoming, once the guests sat down they loomed, obscuring the view."

In Nigeria, lawyer Femi Jegede is inspiring people to unite against their corrupt government. The new president, Ogbe Kolo, has three contract killers out to get rid of the folk hero, so Femi is on the run with his male lover, Igwe. Meanwhile, Kolo becomes so fearful of his political rivals that he sleeps in the trunk of his Mercedes. Dangerous times! Serious issues underly the farcical humour in this brilliant novel.

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