Themes and Meanings
Human survival lies at the heart of this hypnotic story. Okri has been the recipient of many awards, including the Booker Prize for his 1991 novel, The Famished Road, about the exploits of Azaro, a spirit-child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death in the throes of war.
Similarly, “In the Shadow of War,” from his second collection of short stories, Stars of the New Curfew (1988), Okri presents war through the eyes of Omovo, a young Nigerian boy, who while not a spirit-child, enters a sort of spirit world where the people might, or might not, be alive. This much-anthologized short story deals with the devastating impact of war on everyday people. The Nigerian Civil War, first as insubstantial as the radio waves transmitted by a sleepy radio announcer, becomes deadly real to the young boy, as the author details the abuses, the hunger, violence, and disease that result from the political disaster and are witnessed by the innocent youngster.
The mysterious veiled woman is important to Omovo. Early in the story, there is no sign of a mother in the boy’s home, and it seems natural that the child would wait willingly every day for the veiled woman to appear. Could it be his mother is dead? Is this why he follows the woman so easily into the forest? Two of the soldiers are intimidated by her and cry out “witch,” and her ravaged appearance suggests she hovers between life and death. Possibly, this woman represents Nigeria, already deeply wounded but, nevertheless, attempting to feed its starving people.