‘In The Shadow Of War’ by Ben Okri

In The Shadow Of War by Ben Okri, 1988

The magic trick:

Twisting good and bad, alive and dead into a scary, confusing mess

Okri uses the character of the woman in the black veil here to focus the reader’s attention on Omovo’s confusion. He is a child among a war zone. How could he not be confused? The things he thinks are good maybe aren’t. The people he perceives as threats maybe are his protection. And maybe the protection is the threat. And maybe the roles change hour by hour. By the time the story’s done, the reader feels the same disorientation. And that’s quite a trick on Okri’s part.

The selection:

Omovo stared out of the window, irritated with his father. At that hour, for the past seven days, a strange woman with a black veil over her head had been going past the house. She went up the village paths, crossed the Express road, and disappeared into the forest. Omovo waited for her to appear.

The main news was over. The radio announcer said an eclipse of the moon was expected that night. Omovo’s father wiped the sweat off his face with his palm and said, with some bitterness:

“As if an eclipse will stop this war.”

“What is an eclipse?” Omovo asked.

“That’s when the world goes dark and strange things happen.”

“Like what?”

His father lit a cigarette.

“The dead start to walk about and sing. So don’t stay out late, eh.”

Omovo nodded.

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