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Oil on Water


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Helon Habila’s third novel explores militancy and petrol-politics in Nigeria’s Niger Delta—International cause célèbre following the 1995 extra-judicial killing of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Told in Habila’s award-winning prose, Oil on Water follows two journalists, the younger Rufus and the more experienced Zaq, in a descent through the creeks of the delta to unravel the story of the kidnapped expatriate wife of an oil company executive. . .

“As they struggle up the river in a canoe, guided by an old man and a young boy, the reporters encounter nightmarish scenes of devastation: ‘dead birds draped over tree branches, their outstretched wings black and slick with oil; dead fishes bobbed white-bellied between tree roots’. By the flickering light of oil flare, they find some villages abandoned, their fields and water contaminate; others scrape a miserable existence on the frontline of a civil war between the army and anti-government guerrillas.” – Guardian UK.

This is a novel about the limits of journalism; it is an incisive exploration of the death of truth in a country of varied corruptions addicted to oil. Oil on Water confirms Habila’s dazzling talent, evident in his earlier novels and reinforces his place as one of Nigeria’s most important writers.

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Helon Habila

Helon Habila was born in Nigeria. He worked in Lagos as a journalist before moving to England in 2002 for a writing fellowship at the University of East Anglia. In 2001, his short story, “Love Poems” won the Caine Prize and in 2002 his first novel, Waiting for an Angel was published. The novel went on to win the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section) in 2003. In 2006, he co-edited the British Council’s anthology, New Writing 14.

In 2005-2006, Habila was the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York. He stayed on in America as a professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University in Virginia. In 2007 his second novel, Measuring Time, was published. The novel won the Virginia Library Foundation’s fiction award in 2008. In the same year, Habila’s short story, “The Hotel Malogo” won the Emily Balch Prize. “The Hotel Malogo” was also selected by the Best American Non-Required Anthology, edited by Dave Eggers.

Habila’s third novel, Oil on Water, which deals with environmental pollution in the oil-rich Niger Delta, was published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2011) and the Orion Book Award (2012). It was also a runner up for the PEN Open Book Award (2012).

In 2011 Habila edited The Granta Book of the African Short Story. Habila has been a contributing editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review since 2004. He also teaches every summer in an annual creative writing workshop series in his native Nigeria, the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop.

Helon Habila lives in Virginia with his wife and three children.


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