“In the Shadow of War,” like much of Okri’s work, contains a good deal of surrealist imagery and phantasmagoric happenings, which has led some critics to compare his works to those of Latin American writers Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and Gabriel García Márquez, all known for their use of Magical Realism, which mingles realistic and fantastic details. This melding of worlds also defines Okri’s work. However, Okri argues that his stories realistically represent people’s consciousness of life in Nigeria, a country that is inhabited by three hundred different tribal groups and therefore at least this many belief systems. What seems surreal or fantastic to one group, Okri insists, will not seem so to another group.
The art of storytelling comes naturally to Nigerian people, Okri explains. As a child growing up in postcolonial Nigeria, stories were an intricate part of daily life and every aspect of culture. Parents and other authority figures, he remembers, would tell their children stories as parables to teach a moral or to manipulate them to do what they wanted. Likewise, children were encouraged to let their imaginations run wild and to invent stories.
Okri shifts between the material world and the world of spirits with seamless grace. Although the protagonist, Omovo, is grounded in reality in his solid village world—the radio plays; people shave, leave for work, carry briefcases, and catch buses—the boundaries between...
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