by Nuzo Onoh, 2017
As a fellow writer of scary stories, I am convinced that Nuzo Onoh cheats. Oh sure, she writes terrific horror stories. But instead of straining her imagination and making up the scary bits, she just copies down what goes on in West Africa today.
For instance, Onoh makes use of the West African belief that albinos are imbued with magical power. Real life witch doctors often use of albinos in their rituals. Or parts of albinos.
The first part tells of an albino witch-woman, Xikora, and her clash with a brace of African deities. At the end of this chapter, her daughter, Ọwa, is given a mission in life.
Surprisingly, the next part of the book focuses not on Ọwa, but her daughter, Aku. Aku is far less pagan than her mother or grandmother, and goes to a Catholic school. You can't help but like her, although she is mostly shunned by her community.
There's a nice bit of explanation and insight given into the concepts of human sacrifice, reincarnation, and the gods. As it is explained, all these factors tie together quite terrifyingly.
As in earlier books, very nasty things happen to the heroines in Nuzo Onoh's books. Along with witchcraft and curses, blatant government and police corruption is also shown, giving us a well-rounded view of modern Africa. But there's also a scene where a man ponders which of his children he will sacrifice to the gods to obtain his goals—and it's actually funny.
“Dead Corpse” is a wild, nightmarish ride in places and it reaches a surprising, yet appropriate ending. The depth of the spirituality lifts the book from the usual crop of horror stories.
In her fourth fiction book, Nuzo Onoh has again proved to be a very talented writer. Her characters' sentence structure and the occasional Nigerian word dropped in does not distract, but only adds to the authenticity of the setting. The writing is good and straight forward. A few lines could be tightened here and there, but that’s a small quibble.
A few centuries ago, women were persecuted for witchcraft in America and Europe. Bigotry and superstition still exist; even flourish, to this day. But by setting her stories in her native Nigeria, Onoh weaves a unique world, juxtaposing the jungle witchdoctor casting spells in their huts with corrupt politicians driving Peugeots while talking on mobile phones. Those images, and many others in this book, show how today's Nigeria is a hodge-podge of modern technology and spiritual communion with nature, rural villages and opulent palaces, government corruption and savage customs. This is real horror, rooted in the real-life horrors of today in a world many of us have never experienced.
Thanks to Nuzo Ono, Nigeria is the new Transylvania.