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A Dance for the Dead”

by Nuzo Onoh, 2022

Once more, we return to the accursed Nigerian village of Ukari, the setting for many of Nuzo Onoh's stories, not unlike HP Lovecraft with his Arkham, Massachusetts.

It starts out a bit like a soap opera: the handsome Ife wants to dance and drink his life away, but his father, the village chief, insists that Ife marry Ada, the daughter of another chief. At the same time, Iruka loves Ife, but her brother is Emeka, and they are the children of a notorious traitor to the king. When Ife tells Emeka his fears about his impending wedding, Emeka gets the idea of kidnapping Ife's brother, Diké, the warrior who would be forced to drag Ife to the altar.

Meanwhile, Diké rubs the local witch-doctor, Dibia, the wrong way and gets a curse placed on him. Diké is cursed to become a ghost—a living man, but dead to his people. Among tribal cultures, this is truly a fate worse than death. Because of this, his brother, Ife, is now forced to marry not one wife, but two—his brother's “widow”! If that wasn't enough Diké finds he has only one friend—a vengeful, shrieking ghost!

What follows tumbles rapidly into a tale of political machinations, conspiracy, murder, retribution, trickery, witchcraft, curses, and vengeance from beyond the grave—all subjects of which Nuzo Onoh is a mistress. I love the scene where a group of ghosts appear before Diké, apparently drawn by the spilling of blood—much like the scene in the Odyssey, where Odysseus summons ghosts by pouring a trough of blood.

There are plenty of terrifying scenes where the Dead appear and take their revenge. The descent into the Underworld ranks up there with Ishtar's.

Nuzo Onoh is a sharp writer and it shows here as she details the various characters, their relationships, and the world in which they live. While her scenes of supernatural horror are scary, they also connect with the cosmos.

More of a curiosity than a complaint, but there are characters named Ezekiel and Theresa, Hebrew and French names, respectively. There's a reason why the Nigerians at this time period would give Christian names to slaves, but it's not really explained in the narrative. Not a biggie.

My only real complaint is that the book could have used a final edit. There are the occasional missing commas, or errors like “I thought we we're friends” and being told that Ifekandu means “child that is more precious than life” twice in successive paragraphs. And personally, I find it annoying when we see someone's thoughts (shown in italics), but the person refers to himself as “he”, not “I”.

Nonetheless, these are minor criticisms and they don't occur often enough to detract from the story. They take just a little sheen off the gem that is “A Dance for the Dead”.

I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher and received no compensation for this review.

5 stars


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