By Dan Clendenin
Odafe Atogun, Taduno’s Song: A Novel (New York: Pantheon, 2016), 234pp.
This Nigerian novel, which reads more like a fable, opens with a famous musician named Taduno in exile because his revolutionary music angered his country’s dictator. He receives a letter from his girl friend Lela that begs him not to return. Although he was thrilled to hear from Lela, the letter was a portent of disaster. Taduno returned to Nigeria anyway.
Upon return, he came to realize that nobody even recognized him. He had somehow lost his identity. He had also lost his famous voice. And Lela had been abducted by the dictator government. Worst of all, he was eventually faced with a Faustian dilemma — either make a hit record in praise of the corrupt regime, sell his soul, and betray the masses for whom he was a hero, but in so doing gain the release of Lela. Or, refuse the government demand on political principle and so guarantee the death of Lela. The stakes are raised with bribery, flattery, prison, torture, and temptation.
Atogun explores any number of themes here, like the fight for one’s conscience, the brutality of thugocracies, the power of art to transform people and to threaten political power, the delicate interplay between wisdom and bravery, and the conflict between political activism and romantic love. Will Taduno become a hero or a traitor? Will he support the regime to save his life, or resist and stay true to love for Lela and his country? What sort of song will he sing? And why? We learn only on the last few pages.
Taduno’s Song is Atogun’s debut novel. According to his website, his second novel, Wake Me When I’m Gone, is scheduled for release in September 2017.
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