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"The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best." —Emmanuel Dongala In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists-a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq-are sent to find her. In "The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best." —Emmanuel Dongala In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists-a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq-are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended consequences. As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells, in search of "the white woman," they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the "truth" about the woman's disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.


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"The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best." —Emmanuel Dongala In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists-a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq-are sent to find her. In "The new generation of twenty-first-century African writers have now come of age. Without a doubt Habila is one of the best." —Emmanuel Dongala In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists-a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq-are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended consequences. As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells, in search of "the white woman," they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the "truth" about the woman's disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.

30 review for Oil on Water

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This novel deserves all the kudos heaped upon it. The clarity of the writing, the construction of the central mystery, the steady buildup of tension, the detailed character development—all are remarkable and accomplished. The story is simple and straightforward, but becomes nail-bitingly tense as the cub reporter Rufus pursues the kidnappers of a woman on the Nigerian delta. Rufus wouldn’t have volunteered for the dangerous mission but for wishing to accompany a veteran reporter he admires, Zak. This novel deserves all the kudos heaped upon it. The clarity of the writing, the construction of the central mystery, the steady buildup of tension, the detailed character development—all are remarkable and accomplished. The story is simple and straightforward, but becomes nail-bitingly tense as the cub reporter Rufus pursues the kidnappers of a woman on the Nigerian delta. Rufus wouldn’t have volunteered for the dangerous mission but for wishing to accompany a veteran reporter he admires, Zak. Things go wrong. One senses the dark nights, hot, greasy air creased with yellow torches flaming high from the oil rigs, and a maelstrom of humanity wielding guns. Oil permeates everything—the air, the water, the soil—and oil brings wealth to some and homelessness to many in Nigeria. Rufus is both the first and last name of our narrator, a single name he adopts just like Zak, the reporter he most admired. Zak is alcoholic, broken in body and disillusioned, but he is still a raging intellect with the heart of a lion. These two men, on their journey to find the kidnapped wife of a British oil engineer, run into militants seeking adequate reimbursement for oil revenues passing them by. Soldiers seek to stymie the kidnapping plot. Rufus and Zak witness the aftermath of their battle. Rufus is a photographer first, and his experience allows him to know how to take pictures that grip the eye. Habila was a journalist first. He knows how to write a sentence that makes a picture. The simplicity of the writing gives us immediate access to his story: a few words show us the timbre of a voice, the stiffness of a back, the roll and gloss of an eye. On Habila's website we are treated to a blurb from celebrated British author Jim Crace who says, 'Helon Habila writes with intelligence and admirable narrative economy.' That's it, of course. There is no waste. In addition, Habila makes all his characters vulnerable, even the oilmen, the kidnappers, and their henchmen. He takes seemingly incomprehensible events and shows them from every angle, surprising us with their simplicity and their pathos. He reveals terrifying truths and exhibits the almost endless resilience of people under unbearable pressures. He shows us humanity as depraved and as generous as we know ourselves to be. Exquisite. Unforgettable. Praiseworthy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    a stunning novel, one I highly recommend it to people who want to be enlightened about human and environmental conditions in other nations. Maybe some people think it's not cool to be reading fiction about the damage caused by "big, bad corporations" but really, I don't care about opinions -- I want to know what's happening in the world. Oil on Water highlights only a small portion of what's going on and what's been going on for some time, but what is happening now and what's been happening in t a stunning novel, one I highly recommend it to people who want to be enlightened about human and environmental conditions in other nations. Maybe some people think it's not cool to be reading fiction about the damage caused by "big, bad corporations" but really, I don't care about opinions -- I want to know what's happening in the world. Oil on Water highlights only a small portion of what's going on and what's been going on for some time, but what is happening now and what's been happening in the Delta area of Nigeria for nearly 50 years is just shameful. You can click here for a full-on discussion, or just continue reading for the abridged version. Set in the Niger Delta, Oil on Water examines the changes brought about by the oil industry, which drilled its first well in 1956 and has remained a permanent fixture ever since. This very short but powerful novel, the story seen through the eyes of a journalist named Rufus, briefly brings together the stories of five different groups in the area: 1) the people who live in the Delta whose traditional lands, waterways and ways of life have been changed, exploited and in many cases, damaged beyond repair; 2) the numerous groups of freedom fighters/militants whose operations pit them against 3) the oil companies and 4) the government soldiers who routinely patrol the area; and 5) the journalists, who are invited to come and witness, record and relay the truth of what's really going on in the Delta. While the subject matter is disturbing on many levels, Habila's writing is stunning, conveying a very real sense of the human effects of the changes wrought by the oil industry there. The frame for this novel is that the wife of an oil-company executive has been kidnapped and a group of journalists have been invited to make the journey up the river for an interview with her and her captors. Rufus is a new reporter at the 3rd largest paper in Port Harcourt, and when the request to get the story comes in, he volunteers for a job that all of the journalists know is potentially fatal after the earlier killings of two reporters on a similar mission. Along with him is his idol Zaq, a "once-great reporter" now past his glory days, once famous for his stories that emphasized the humanity beneath events. As they make their journey upriver for the story, they become part of it -- they are held as prisoners and encounter others who have also been taken captive; they are firsthand witnesses to murder and other violent acts, and throughout their trek they experience the horrific devastation of waterways and land that used to sustain entire populations. The story goes back and forth through time as Rufus relates both his past and Zaq's; Rufus also talks to various people they encounter along the way and hears their respective stories of how they came to be where they are at present. The author spares no detail in describing the environmental devastation, including the "foul and sulphurous" river with its floating dead and dying wildlife, the fish that have disappeared, the perpetually-burning flares of gas that burn throughout the night and produce toxic fumes, and land that is so oil soaked that nothing can grow. But he also focuses heavily on the human side of things. Government corruption is a reality that sustains poverty, and poverty engenders groups like the militants/freedom fighters, who disrupt oil production until they're paid off, kidnap for huge ransoms and are in a state of perpetual warfare with government soldiers that involves the lives of otherwise innocent people. Tapping oil lines just to survive, sometimes with disastrous results, according to the author, is another human consequence, as is the move to bigger cities where work is hard or nearly impossible to come by. Oil and Water is a depressing novel, but at the same time, the story is very well written, giving the reader pause to think. If you're saying in your head "oh crap, not another story about the evil oil corporations," well, yes, there is definitely a LOT of that here. At its core, however, this is an all-too-human story, based on realities that most people reading this book, including myself, can't even begin to fathom. It brings to light an ongoing state of environmental devastation and human rights issues that most people either aren't aware of and well, frankly, probably don't care about because it's somewhere over in Africa and isn't relevant to daily living. And that's really a shame. I loved this novel and all I can say by way of recommendation is READ THIS BOOK!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    Rufus, a young journalist on his first major assignment, travels into the troubled oil-rich Nigerian Delta, hoping to land his breakthrough news story: interviewing the kidnappers of a British oil engineer's wife and proving that the captive is alive. The dangers lurking among the oilfields and the pipelines that meander snake-like across the Delta's waters cannot deter him, especially as he is in the company of his much-admired former mentor, the erstwhile prominent reporter, Zaq. Helon Habila' Rufus, a young journalist on his first major assignment, travels into the troubled oil-rich Nigerian Delta, hoping to land his breakthrough news story: interviewing the kidnappers of a British oil engineer's wife and proving that the captive is alive. The dangers lurking among the oilfields and the pipelines that meander snake-like across the Delta's waters cannot deter him, especially as he is in the company of his much-admired former mentor, the erstwhile prominent reporter, Zaq. Helon Habila's new novel, "Oil on Water" is a confidently crafted and absorbing, in parts totally gripping, chronicle of human ambitions, tragedies and failures, but also of love, friendship and perseverance of the human spirit. Evoking the rich and beautiful yet fragile environment of the Delta, that is slowly being devastated by the greed for oil and money, Habila perceptively guides his different narrative strands into a poignant story that is profoundly personal even where he raises broader political and societal concerns. Habila weaves his story in a non-chronological way: it flows back and forth in time, reflecting the reporters' meandering voyage through the vast intricate river delta. We first meet Rufus and Zaq on the ninth day of their quest. In flashbacks we learn about their back stories and, over time, that of other memorable characters. Past events are hinted at early on... Now, they are on their own, traveling by slow canoe, dependent for guidance and safety on a local fisherman and his young son to find a safe place to stay while charting their next steps. However, their time among the mangroves and later on a very special island of worshippers, is suddenly interrupted... and they have to leave their journalist role behind and use all their talents to stay alive. Observing events through Rufus's eyes and mind, the author takes us behind the news headlines and deep into the complicated quagmire of the violent conflict between the opposing sides and their claims for oil, land and control. Emotions run high, suspicions and fear are constant companions. Not only are deadly accidents common from fires and illegally tapped oil pipes, the local military units, tasked with protecting the oil business's interests, are known for excessive, vicious force when confronted by any type of resistance, passive or not. The militant "rebels" also have a reputation of violence and kidnapping as a means to raise the money for their ongoing struggle against the government authorities and the oil companies. The local population of fishermen and farmers, with memories of a simpler and healthier life and happier times, are caught in the middle, but also tempted by promised riches from the oil wells on their shores. Habila is an accomplished storyteller as well as a poet, having won numerous awards in both fields. His imagery is vivid, at times cinematographic and his lyrical language comes to the fore in particular when he connects the reader with the atmospheric seascapes of the Delta. "Midriver the water was clear and mobile, but toward the banks it turned brackish and still, trapped by mangroves in whose branches the mist hung in clumps like cotton balls. Ahead of us the mist arched clear over the water like a bridge, our light wooden canoe would be so enveloped in the dense gray stuff that we couldn't see each other as we glided silently over the water." Despite the oftentimes violent events that Habila describes, he softens their impact with his sensitive characterization of people, who rarely are totally evil or totally good, they are human beings. A less rounded and skilled storyteller could have succumbed to the dangers of taking on a didactic preaching tone. Not so. While Habila has definite deep concerns on his mind he never allows these to take over or skew the balance in this richly imagined story of complex human beings in a many-sided challenging situation. To me, the late writer and journalist Ken Saro Wiva, the human rights activist and, until his execution in 1995, foremost non-violent defender of the rights of the indigenous Delta populations comes to mind as a likely and strong inspiration for the author.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nnedi

    This was a wonderful glimpse into the confusion, violence, desperation and hope of the Niger Delta region and its people. It was up close and personal in the way I like when reading about conflicted parts of the world. Too often, writers bring the camera too far back so that readers can see the big picture; however, in the process they lose the humanity of what's going on and the humans involved become more like tiny pawns being moved about. I hate that. This book did the opposite. I love that. N This was a wonderful glimpse into the confusion, violence, desperation and hope of the Niger Delta region and its people. It was up close and personal in the way I like when reading about conflicted parts of the world. Too often, writers bring the camera too far back so that readers can see the big picture; however, in the process they lose the humanity of what's going on and the humans involved become more like tiny pawns being moved about. I hate that. This book did the opposite. I love that. Nevertheless, this wasn't as tantalizing and engulfing as my favorite Habila book Waiting for an Angel. I also listened to the audio version and the reader's poor accent drove me crazy. I have had to read my own work and do accents that I'm not all that good at. So I understand it's now easy. Clearly this reader was not Nigeria. BUT there are basics that a professional reader should get when doing accents different from his or her own. In this case, he mispronounced "Igbo" and pronounced "Lagos" like a non-Nigerian. No no no. I had to stop listening a few times because his accent was so annoying and off. I listened to the audio-book because of time constraints (the only time I have to read are when I am cooking or working out). If you have the the time, do not get the audio-book! Anyway, a good Habila book but not my personal favorite. I will read more of his work, certainly. He's great.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Heading: Disillusioned and Disheartened Oil on Water is the masterful third novel by Helon Habila, and once again the author tackles another timely topic, this time the deadly politics of oil in the Niger Delta. The wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped by a group of militants, and this in itself is not necessarily newsworthy as it is a common enough occurrence in the region with its own rules for the exchange of monies and the release of the kidnapped person. As journalists are usua Heading: Disillusioned and Disheartened Oil on Water is the masterful third novel by Helon Habila, and once again the author tackles another timely topic, this time the deadly politics of oil in the Niger Delta. The wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped by a group of militants, and this in itself is not necessarily newsworthy as it is a common enough occurrence in the region with its own rules for the exchange of monies and the release of the kidnapped person. As journalists are usually involved to help facilitate the process, Rufus, a young journalist, takes the assignment to find “the white woman”, as he senses this could be his big break. He is excited to work with his mentor, Zaq, a once-renowned journalist who has fallen from grace and now lives in an alcoholic haze. But, a seemingly routine event takes an unexpected turn which leads Rufus and Zaq on a life-threatening and introspective journey. Through this adventure, both Rufus and the reader will be often reminded of Zaq’s sage advice, “Remember, the story is not always the final goal.” One of the strengths of this enthralling story is the unfolding of the tale through Rufus’ memory that is often patchy and hallucinatory matching it to the environment with its twists and turns in the river, and the hidden islands appearing and disappearing before your eyes. This provides a cinematic quality as the scenes are vividly painted for the reader, making the Niger Delta as much a character as Rufus and Zaq. The expert storytelling allows the reader to feel empathy for the characters that live in an environment where often who is the good guy and who is the bad guy is dependent on the breathtaking tricks of chance that can result in life or death in a second. Using Rufus, as the detective in this mystery allows for the exploration of journalism as a vehicle for being the voice of the people, and showing the frustration of reining in the truth when political and money forces are spinning the tale to their own making. Through Rufus starts out searching for “the white woman,” he ends up finding something more transformative and profound, and the reader is right there with him feeling the potent mix of humanity with the sharp edge of nervous anticipation of the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it was part armchair adventure, part cautionary tale, and part social documentary. Oil on Water provides a portrait of the Niger Delta and the people who live there. The author deserves the accolades as he took an unsettling subject and captured it in a calming and haunting way that stays with me long after I have read the last page. I recommend this book to readers of literary fiction and those who are interested in environmental and energy issues. Reviewed by Beverly APOOO Literary Book Review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    The opening chapter describes a harrowing river journey that immediately brings to mind Heart of Darkness. It is not the same story, but the physical surroundings, the fog, the fearful emotional atmosphere...I'm thinking, "Mistah Kurtz, he dead." It was a strong powerful chapter. The story is of an ambitious Nigerian reporter who is trying to find the kidnapped wife of an expatriate European oil executive. Nothing is as it seems, and the plot moves slowly, somewhat weighed down by the earnestness The opening chapter describes a harrowing river journey that immediately brings to mind Heart of Darkness. It is not the same story, but the physical surroundings, the fog, the fearful emotional atmosphere...I'm thinking, "Mistah Kurtz, he dead." It was a strong powerful chapter. The story is of an ambitious Nigerian reporter who is trying to find the kidnapped wife of an expatriate European oil executive. Nothing is as it seems, and the plot moves slowly, somewhat weighed down by the earnestness of the narrator. There are a number of potentially fascinating characters, but they lack definition; they all tend to sound the same. Much of the prose is irrelevant and plodding: "She was pretty and clever and the sex was good, but I didn't see myself spending the rest of my life with her." Greed is destroying the society and environment of Nigeria -- the greed of the oil industry, the greed of the world that demands the oil, and the greed of the Nigerians. But the ones with the most money wield the power, so the Nigerians are suffering for that. The story was a way to highlight the inequities and cruelties. I liked that this is a book written by a Nigerian, with Nigerian protagonists.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jen Brown

    The most interesting thing about this book is the subject matter of the political and environmental disaster caused by oil companies in Nigeria. Eventhought this is an extremely important and interesting topic, I must say that I don’t think I would have finished this novel if I didn’t have to read it for university. Regarding this book as a novel, rather than an important piece of Nigerian literature, I couldn’t get behind the author’s style of writing. The main character, Rufus, did not seem co The most interesting thing about this book is the subject matter of the political and environmental disaster caused by oil companies in Nigeria. Eventhought this is an extremely important and interesting topic, I must say that I don’t think I would have finished this novel if I didn’t have to read it for university. Regarding this book as a novel, rather than an important piece of Nigerian literature, I couldn’t get behind the author’s style of writing. The main character, Rufus, did not seem compelling to me and his inner monologs got tedious. As for the mystery of the kidnaped woman, I’d forget about it every so often, if it weren’t because it got mentioned every couple of chapters. On top of that, the timeline is all over the place, the constant flashbacks got confusing in a lot of instances and rarely helped advance the plot in any way. Again, I respect the topics and the representation of the people affected by the situation, but I’m not a fan of this particular story.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tobechukwu Udeigbo

    This book revolves around the Niger Delta area, the struggle for oil and power, the contaminated water, the fleeing Niger-Deltan residents and the consequences of greed. Helon Habila takes the reader on a ride exposing the environmental conditions, poor health, insecurities, and the harsh realities that people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria are experiencing through the eyes of two journalists, Zaq and Rufus. Zaq, who was nibbling on his past glory as an accomplished journalist, was on a miss This book revolves around the Niger Delta area, the struggle for oil and power, the contaminated water, the fleeing Niger-Deltan residents and the consequences of greed. Helon Habila takes the reader on a ride exposing the environmental conditions, poor health, insecurities, and the harsh realities that people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria are experiencing through the eyes of two journalists, Zaq and Rufus. Zaq, who was nibbling on his past glory as an accomplished journalist, was on a mission to reclaim his fame and his reputation after a lost love affair, a fall out with his past employer, and a past criminal record smeared his name. He decided to go on a dangerous but newsworthy trip to rescue a British woman who was kidnapped by the militants for a ransom; which, he believed, would resuscitate his glory. Tagging along with him is Rufus, a photo journalist whose goal was to gain some recognition while pursing this story and to be accorded some respect among his journalist peers. As these two men began their journey, Helon visually captured the effect of oil spill in the area. There are ferocious fires bulldozing villages daily which can be seen through the orange glows. There is also a lack of security in this area. Homegrown militants, who are residents of the area but are against the oil companies who have exploited the lands, are terrorizing people, stealing and threatening anyone who is not in support of their mission. Their goal is to secure their lands and partake in its glorious financial output. The environmental degradation of the area is captured by Helon's words which informed the readers about the negative economic impact of oil spill. Rivers, that habited big fishes and crabs and was a source of their livelihood, have degraded because of the pollution. Dead fishes and dead bodies often washed off the shores, and many residents in the area travel far in other to get quality fishes and crabs to sell. I did not know much about the Niger Delta area and their struggles, but this book opened my eyes to what is currently happening there. I often read about the militants, as thugs and jobless young people, from a negative perspective; but this book humanized and shed a positive light on them. I cannot imagine being a resident of this area and not feeling a pang of pain over what the oil companies are doing to my people and to my land. After reading this book, I developed a new perspective about the Niger Delta militants and actually applaud them for fighting to keep these greedy politicians and expatriates at bay. I hope someone from the government reads this book and begins a reconciliatory process about this issue which is damaging lives and have rendered thousands homeless. How can a whole village move from their ancestral home because they feel unsafe in their land? How dare the Nigerian government kidnap a chief, who is the most respectable person in a community, from his home and return his dead body to his community because he refused to sign off his lands to hungry and selfish oil company CEO's? I recommend a sincere apology to be tendered to the Niger Deltans and for these residents to get a fair percentage from any profit made from oil sales. They should be compensated by awarding everyone a monthly stipend, security, free healthcare and quality education at no cost to them. In addition, I would suggest that a member from each community, elected by the people, should be a member of the Executive board in every oil company in the area. This would help prioritize and consider the needs of the Niger Deltans before any decision is made by the board. I rate this book 9.5/10 and highly recommend it to every young Nigerian especially those who desire to take up leadership roles in the country. Our decisions matter and have ripple effects. So, when we seat at the table, lets be on the right side of history for posterity.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marcy prager

    This book opened up my eyes to what is happening in the Niger Delta. Two journalists head out to find an English woman, the wife of a prominent oil engineer, who had been kidnapped for ransom, expecting the oil company to give them millions. The Delta Niger is all about peaceful islanders, whose lives have been turned upside down by the armies of the oil companies who are taking their land by force, their homes, polluting their waters and the environment. Many of these peaceful island people hav This book opened up my eyes to what is happening in the Niger Delta. Two journalists head out to find an English woman, the wife of a prominent oil engineer, who had been kidnapped for ransom, expecting the oil company to give them millions. The Delta Niger is all about peaceful islanders, whose lives have been turned upside down by the armies of the oil companies who are taking their land by force, their homes, polluting their waters and the environment. Many of these peaceful island people have turned militant, trying to get back their lives and their livelihoods, with guns and violence on both sides. It is up to the two reporters to discover the truth behind the kidnapping of the English woman...In essence, they discover "the larger picture," the truth about this region that describes Haboila's title, Oil on Water. As the reader becomes totally engrossed in this story, the reader also discovers to what ends journalists will go to find the "perfect" story, only to find the real story. Helon Habila continuously describes the murky waters, the humid air, and the barren landscape of the Niger Delta. He makes many interesting symbolic references to the "flares" of the oil company's fires. Definitely worth the read...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Oil On Water, by Helon Habila, is a novel that takes in Nigeria where oil has become the main concern. The oil companies are buying up villages and destroying the environment. That’s when the militant group starts fighting back, and one of the ways they do so, is by kidnapping important people and family members of the oil company. This is where Rufus and Zaq, two reporters, come in. They are sent to determine a ransom for “the white woman.” What appears to be a simple, but frightening task, tur Oil On Water, by Helon Habila, is a novel that takes in Nigeria where oil has become the main concern. The oil companies are buying up villages and destroying the environment. That’s when the militant group starts fighting back, and one of the ways they do so, is by kidnapping important people and family members of the oil company. This is where Rufus and Zaq, two reporters, come in. They are sent to determine a ransom for “the white woman.” What appears to be a simple, but frightening task, turns into unexpected, complicated, and unwanted adventure. Despite it’s slightly confusing flashbacks and double flashbacks, the story keeps you reading, wanting to figure out the mystery, and leaves you content and fulfilled by the end. Overall, Oil On Water is a thrilling and unique story.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty Potter

    2.5 stars. Accidentally abandoned this book for over a month, it didn’t actually take me this long to read it! I thought the premise of this was intriguing but unfortunately it didn’t really grab me at all.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bookish Igbo Girl

    This is an amazing book, had me reeling with so much emotions.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Meant to read this when it came out and finally caught up with it six years later. It's a bit of a slow burn, as a young Nigerian journalist and a salty veteran journalist are asked to help find the kidnapped wife of a British oil industry worker in the contested delta area. She's been missing for nine days and although there's been no ransom demands, it's assumed that rebel forces have her -- although no one seems to really have a good idea of how to contact the rebels. The two journalists deci Meant to read this when it came out and finally caught up with it six years later. It's a bit of a slow burn, as a young Nigerian journalist and a salty veteran journalist are asked to help find the kidnapped wife of a British oil industry worker in the contested delta area. She's been missing for nine days and although there's been no ransom demands, it's assumed that rebel forces have her -- although no one seems to really have a good idea of how to contact the rebels. The two journalists decide to to the delta and go more or less upriver in an attempt to make contact. If you're not aware of the long-running conflict in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region, their journey will give a sense of all the basics. The Nigerian government and military are cozy with international oil companies and lots of money is being made, while the people living in the area live amidst extreme environmental degradation (poisoned fish, heavily polluted air, etc.) and reap no benefit from the oil. As a result, rebel groups have emerged, ostensibly to redress the power imbalance, but definitely to get a slice of the oil wealth. As the journalists try and find the right rebel group and act as intermediaries for the woman's release, the story never veers into the melodramatic, and the reader emerges with a strong sense of the struggle of regular people to live normally in a corrupt state.

  14. 4 out of 5

    ann

    a gripping novel surrounding the violence of petrocultures, particularly in the nigerian delta. deals heavily with themes of environmental, individual, and communal trauma, memory, truth, and journalistic integrity and work. incredibly powerful, moving, and educational. you will not think of oil and the oil industry the same after this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay Shelat

    Despite its rushed conclusion, Oil on Water is a complex and intriguing story that highlights neocolonialism in the form of oil markets in Nigeria.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Nigerian faux Hemingway. Habila treats his mystery plot with seeming disinterest, preferring instead to spatter the novel in scenes of horrific violence (children doused in gasoline) meant to rouse our political sympathies. Fine as a piece of activism, but why not write a pamphlet instead? Or just shoot an oil executive?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jay Burton

    Last week in a seminar presenting environmental issues in Africa, my lecturer strongly recommended this book. Out of the whole class, I think I was the only one to actually follow his advice, and I must say, I'm not disappointed, and I'm going to make my classmates read it too. The story takes place in the Niger Delta, where a huge conflict arose between the oil companies destroying the environment and the militants trying to do anything they can to make them stop and leave. The oil companies hav Last week in a seminar presenting environmental issues in Africa, my lecturer strongly recommended this book. Out of the whole class, I think I was the only one to actually follow his advice, and I must say, I'm not disappointed, and I'm going to make my classmates read it too. The story takes place in the Niger Delta, where a huge conflict arose between the oil companies destroying the environment and the militants trying to do anything they can to make them stop and leave. The oil companies have the money, and so they have the governments lawyers and soldiers too. The militants only way of getting by is by ransoming hostages, making them the bad guys in everyone's eyes. We follow Rufus, a young journalist who tries to track down the militants as a British woman has been taken hostage and he wants his "first great scoop" of the bad guys. Throughout the short novel we find out how hopeless the locals position is against the oil companies. Even if they struggle against them, the oil companies find a way to break them through their power and money, build their machines and destroy the environment around the Nigerians, forcing the locals to move away from the place that they love. Here in Europe I feel like I am not shown these types of conflicts through the media, and it took me until university to finally have a teacher willing to expose some of these problems. I felt ashamed to know so little about the terrible things happening in this everlasting worldwide fossil fuel hunt down, and I'm glad to have read this book. Throughout our main characters travels, we see the different point of views of the militants, locals, government soldiers, and even have a chance to talk to a big cheese from the oil company. The characters are very interesting, the plot fast paced and never boring, but it is far from being a happy story. However even in this war without end, beauty and hope can be found, even if it's only through a little thing, like rebuilding a statue. With easy language (apart from the pidgin English) and nice big writing, you can read this great novel in a day or two and it is definitely worth it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Galena Public Library

    Reviewed by Rachel Lenstra The narrative of "Oil on Water" meanders among several timelines, making it a challenge to follow. However, the storyline is an important one: the effects of large corporations from (predominantly white) countries coming into Nigeria to exploit the land for oil. Upon first glance, one might assume this book is a mystery of sorts: the white wife of an English petroleum engineer is kidnapped by a rebel group, and a young reporter and his would-be mentor set out to find he Reviewed by Rachel Lenstra The narrative of "Oil on Water" meanders among several timelines, making it a challenge to follow. However, the storyline is an important one: the effects of large corporations from (predominantly white) countries coming into Nigeria to exploit the land for oil. Upon first glance, one might assume this book is a mystery of sorts: the white wife of an English petroleum engineer is kidnapped by a rebel group, and a young reporter and his would-be mentor set out to find her. One quickly realizes, though, that the white woman and her husband are not the focus of the story. They are merely a stand-in for all white people taking over Nigeria and desecrating the natural land and water that many of its residents rely on for survival. Written by a Nigerian man who now resides in the United States, "Oil on Water" is a recommended read for anyone interested in diversity, politics, the environment, or multiculturalism. If you can get past the confusing timeline, that is.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah P

    I have to say, this was a well-written book. Although the dialogue is difficult to follow, unlike many books that you'll find, this one uses flashbacks frequently and tells you multiple stories of what's happened to other characters. This helps give you a clear understanding of how a character is feeling and what's happening in the book. I rate this book 5/5 because, even though I'm not into these kind of books, this one has almost perfect descriptions that help you picture a setting you've neve I have to say, this was a well-written book. Although the dialogue is difficult to follow, unlike many books that you'll find, this one uses flashbacks frequently and tells you multiple stories of what's happened to other characters. This helps give you a clear understanding of how a character is feeling and what's happening in the book. I rate this book 5/5 because, even though I'm not into these kind of books, this one has almost perfect descriptions that help you picture a setting you've never lived in before. The setting takes place in Nigeria, during an oil war. As you're probably thinking, the setting is not very pleasant. The beginning is slightly confusing because it starts with a memory, but then again, it gives you knowledge of what the main character, Rufus, has been through and what could possibly happen in the book. The author, Helon Habila, is also great at describing characters' physical and mental features, which gives you an even better picture of the story. I highly suggest this book to anyone who enjoys adventure, unexpected turns of events, and a place that exists in a part of the world that you've probably never seen before.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I won an advanced reading copy of this book through Goodreads and my review contains no spoilers. Helon Habila writes beautifully, he paints incredible pictures with his words which made me feel as though I was transported to the Nigerian Delta with Rufus. The book was a quick, easy read and I enjoyed Habila's writing style. Oil on Water makes you think. Isn't that what good books are supposed to do? During the journey of two reporters, Rufus & Zaq to find a kidnapped 'white woman' they encounter I won an advanced reading copy of this book through Goodreads and my review contains no spoilers. Helon Habila writes beautifully, he paints incredible pictures with his words which made me feel as though I was transported to the Nigerian Delta with Rufus. The book was a quick, easy read and I enjoyed Habila's writing style. Oil on Water makes you think. Isn't that what good books are supposed to do? During the journey of two reporters, Rufus & Zaq to find a kidnapped 'white woman' they encounter many obstacles: military forces, government soliders and villagers, never sure who will help them and who will turn against them. In Habila's writing he never encourages the reader to pick a side but rather he includes a series of events that paint each party in a negative and positive light. He gives you both sides of the story, accurate or not in true journalistic fashion.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Incredible subject, well-narrated by an interesting and compelling character. Beautiful use of imagery and time sequencing. I loved how easily we could go from one time to another without feeling disjointed. I didn't love the predictability of the ending (particularly the pregnancy situation and the plot surrounding the sister). I also wish the chapters could have varied more with regard to length, order of events, and so on. I'm interested to read more Helon Habila to see whether other books ar Incredible subject, well-narrated by an interesting and compelling character. Beautiful use of imagery and time sequencing. I loved how easily we could go from one time to another without feeling disjointed. I didn't love the predictability of the ending (particularly the pregnancy situation and the plot surrounding the sister). I also wish the chapters could have varied more with regard to length, order of events, and so on. I'm interested to read more Helon Habila to see whether other books are done similarly. Highly recommend for people wanting to learn more about Africa/exploitation of natural resources/overseas journalism.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dionisia

    I received my copy of this book via the goodreads giveaway program. I was spending quite a bit of time cleaning up goodreads' award section and my interest was piqued when I noticed it had been recently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize (Best Book in the African Region). I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high? I was expecting to be grabbed and shaken by the story Helon Habila weaved, but instead I was gently pulled along. I want my suspense stories to ha I received my copy of this book via the goodreads giveaway program. I was spending quite a bit of time cleaning up goodreads' award section and my interest was piqued when I noticed it had been recently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize (Best Book in the African Region). I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high? I was expecting to be grabbed and shaken by the story Helon Habila weaved, but instead I was gently pulled along. I want my suspense stories to have a lil oomph! Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and it was well written.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nico Vreeland

    After you get over how disappointing this book is, it can be kind of funny. I mean, Habila compares the plight of Nigerians exploited and ruined by the greed of oil companies to ....... the people looking for dry land in "Waterworld." Seriously? Yes. http://chamberfour.com/2011/06/09/rev... After you get over how disappointing this book is, it can be kind of funny. I mean, Habila compares the plight of Nigerians exploited and ruined by the greed of oil companies to ....... the people looking for dry land in "Waterworld." Seriously? Yes. http://chamberfour.com/2011/06/09/rev...

  24. 4 out of 5

    anique

    Fast moving so far. UPDATE: Oh man was that ending such a letdown. In fact, the book on the whole wasn't that great. It felt like a thrilling, yet banal beach read. Like a Nigerian John Grisham. Ouch.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    The novel is enjoyable although I would have liked a more linear storytelling, the author uses flashbacks over flashbacks and it is a bit disruptive. But the narration is still very good and you are transported in the Delta.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wonderwoman

    I hated the ambiguous ending. The subject matter was great but I just got bored after a while. I can usually finish a book this size in three days but this took 2 weeks because I really didn't care about finishing it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I highly recommend this book. Habila is a really good storyteller. The main characters are journalists investigating a kidnapping of an oil company executive's wife in Nigeria. I learned a lot about how oil exploitation has impacted the life of the local people there.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anina

    An edge of your seat mystery that is so well constructed, also the glimpses into Nigerian Delta life and the corruption there are fascinating.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    The topic and story were interesting, but it was a little confusing to follow the way it was written. I wish more time had been spent on the underlying issues and historical context.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Batstone

    Habila painted a vivid picture of the destruction in the Niger Delta and the pain it caused. Not extremely memorable, but unique and interesting.

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