From The Guardian Newspaper. Wednesday 5th December 2012.
OIL on Water is the title of Helon Habila’s newest book just released in Nigeria by Parrésia Publishers Ltd. Habila came to literary limelight when, in 2001, his collection of short stories Love Poems won the Caine Prize and he was invited by the British Council to become the first African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, Waiting for an Angel, won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section) in 2003. In 2007 his second novel, Measuring Time, was published. He is currently a professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University in Virginia, U.S.
Oil on Water is about the journey of two journalists, the older, veteran Zak and the fresher Rufus, investigating their way through the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta. The subject of their investigation is the location of the expatriate wife of an oil company executive who has been kidnapped and the two decide to get to the bottom of her disappearance by all means, regardless of danger. It is a journey that makes a mature journalist out of Rufus and the shocking twist at the end makes for a satisfying read.
Perhaps there is more to the imagery of the title than that of an oil spill, which has devastated communities in the delta for decades? Depending on your perspective, you could even wonder and argue which of the many characters in the book, from journalists to militants, from soldiers to chiefs and canoe men, is ‘water’ and who amongst them is ‘oil’? What there is no doubt about, however, is that in this beautiful book, Habila has succeeded in blending the impossible on crafting a truly Nigerian story—of oil on water, and oneness.
The book has already been shortlisted for two international prizes—the Orion International Book Prize and the PEN/Open Book Award in addition to other awards won for Helon Habila’s previous books. Habila has remained a very engaged writer, returning home to Nigeria at least once every year to coordinate the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing Workshop which has nurtured a lot of Nigeria-based talents including Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, whose The Whispering Trees was also published by Parrésia Publishers Ltd this year.
Parrésia is an exciting local publishing firm set up in January 2012 with the aim of producing quality writing and Helon Habila’s latest novel underscores this.
Commenting on Habila’s new work, the publisher, Mrs. Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, said she was “thrilled that we are the ones coming out with this book. Helon is one of the younger giants of African writing and in telling our story of the Niger Delta, he remembers his roots by bringing his talent to bear on our story”.