Ben Okri published an early version of “In the Shadow of War” in the London publication West Africa, in 1983. Subsequently, he included a rewritten version of the story in his 1988 collection, Stars of the New Curfew. Both the English and United States editions of Stars of the New Curfew were out of print as of 2004; however, the story was also anthologized in 1999 by Daniel Halpern in The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories.
Like much of Okri’s writing, “In the Shadow of War” focuses on a young main character, who in this case is a Urhobo boy, age seven or eight, named Omovo. Omovo appears as the main character in two of Okri’s other works, The Landscapes Within and Dangerous Love. Here, Omovo is forced to explore issues of morality against the landscape of the Nigerian Civil War. In question is his morality as well as that of his father and the soldiers who kill a woman whom they presume to be a spy. In fact, she may simply be aiding other women and children who are impoverished and displaced by the war.
“In the Shadow of War” marks a significant turning point in Okri’s career. Most important, this story, as well as those that appear with it and those in Okri’s earlier short fiction collection, Incidents at the Shrine, mark a shift away from realist writing to writing that skillfully incorporates the realm of the imagination and the fantastic. By incorporating fantastical elements into the work, Okri opens the story to a myriad of interpretations, all of which conspire to fortify his theme that, in the face of war, the distinctions between right and wrong become unclear.