In the Shadow of War

by Ben Okri

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

Stars of the New Curfew received less attention than Okri’s more well-known work, The Famished Road; however, the work did not go unnoticed in 1988, when it was released in England, or the following year, when it was published in the United States. In “Beneath the Waves,” which Sylvester Ike Onwordi wrote for the Times Literary Supplement in August 1988, Onwordi commends Stars of the New Curfew as some of Okri’s “finest writing to date.” He notes that Okri “appears now to have come into his own stylistically and creatively.” In addition to saying that Okri writes without “self-indulgence,” Onwordi praised Okri’s writing as “concise without being arid.” Writing for the New York Times Book Review in August 1989, Neil Bissoondath seems to agree. Taking special note of the first paragraph of “In the Shadow of War,” Bissoondath writes that Okri’s “language is simple” and that his details are “striking.”

Okri has been praised for the ways in which his fiction accurately reflects Nigerian culture. Onwordi notes of Stars of the New Curfew, “this is a book on Nigerian life which perfectly captures the emotional temperature of that turbulent country.” At the same time, Okri has also been recognized by critics for the universality of his themes, particularly as they apply to Africa’s greater continental experience of colonization and subsequent independence. In his review of Stars of the New Curfew in World Literature Today in the spring of 1990, Michael Thorpe notes that:

Okri’s fabular and allegorical journeys, three of which are excursions into the forest, are more patently linked with the life Africans endure and struggle through in the here and now. Everywhere images of sudden violence and random, cruel power erupt.

Bissoondath concurs and calls Okri a “natural storyteller” who writes “tales that resonate well beyond their immediate settings, striking chords of recognition in anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with underdeveloped countries.”

Critics have also remarked that Stars of the New Curfew as well as Okri’s preceding short fiction collection, Incidents at the Shrine, signal a transition in his writing. Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, which is edited by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, takes note that the stories found in these collections

mark a turning point in [his] aesthetic development because they increasingly use African narrative techniques as an essential aspect of their narrative strategy. Stars of the New Curfew particularly develops the rich imagination, complex mythical imagery, and episodic adventures that are found [in the writings of Okri’s predecessors].

Okri’s predecessors include Amos Tutuola, Gabriel Okara, and D. O. Fangunwa. This same source also states that “critics have praised Okri for his ability to creatively experiment with new literary forms.” One such critic is Robert Fraser. Writing in the April 1989 issue of the Third World Quarterly, Fraser calls attention to Okri’s particular strength in drawing on the traditions of oral storytelling without “compromising anything of his fractious modernity.” Stylistically, Stars of the New Curfew is also known by critics as some of Okri’s earliest use of magic realism. In his early review of Stars of the New Curfew, Onwordi reflects that Okri’s “work will probably be described as magic realism because, dealing with fable and the collision of dream and reality, he takes liberties with perceived notions of time and place.”

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Criticism