Shucks Mahoney’s #CBRV Review #12: Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa

This is a great travel book which manages to combine politics, history, economics, art history, memoir, and insight into Nigerian fast food dishes. It provides what really good travel stories do, the vicarious thrills of travel without having to get your passport stamped. Noo (pronounced “gnaw”) Saro-Wiwa went back to Nigeria with trepidation – she hated going there as a child, much preferring her adopted homeland of England, but wanted to confront her own prejudices and find out just what was true about the country more notorious for government corruption and spam emails than its rich heritage and beautiful landscape. It’s understandable how difficult this would be for anyone, but her name is familiar for a reason, her father was the murdered activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, one of the most famous Nigerians in the world.

She moves around this huge country and sees just how bad the corruption is, and the strange and sometimes wonderful ways Nigerians have coped with it. As well as writing with great economy and skill about complex social patterns and the way that the governments and oil companies have screwed over much of the populace, she allows herself to express her feelings being confronted with the big problems – lack of infrastructure, the environmental neglect – and the frustrating small problems, like the constant noise of Lagos and the impossibility of getting a clean hotel room.

I wanted to read this as a fan of so many great Nigerian artists (Fela and Femi Kuti, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, etc etc) and having seen this great short film about Lagos. Saro-Wiwa gives us a much more nuanced view of the country than the awfully one-dimensional take of ‘poor Africa’ that gets stuck. A funny, sometimes moving, very enjoyable read.