Book Review: Looking for Transwonderland

Noo Saro Wiwa takes a trip back to her homeland of Nigeria after many years of separation

Photograph: Goran Tomasevic

Photograph: Goran Tomasevic

Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro Wiwa

****

There’s something compelling about a return. We adulate in the comeback of old stars of screen and sound, we immortalise them in the hallowed halls of fame and memory, and we lionise the much awaited new novel of a writer who thoughtfully takes their time to ponder their next offering to an eager readership. An underdog pulling themselves back to the top, both fictionally and in the life each of us live, is enthralling. Looking For Transwonderland is exactly that, and yet quite different.

Noo Saro Wiwa takes a trip back to her homeland of Nigeria after many years of perfectly content separation. This return, far from self-confident or even remotely hopeful, is rife with trepidation and the faintest inkling of unwilling participation. Nevertheless, return she does, and, though such hesitation has all of the disastrous potential to make for a frustrating or even irritating read, the reader might just find that they’re a little more sympathetic.

“Wiwa’s refreshing honesty and far-from-baby-proof-handling of her country of birth is indeed frank and often brutal”

Not wishing to give away the whole poignant back-story behind the homecoming of a heart full of hurt and a head full of painful memories and worries for the future, Wiwa has her own reasons – not, at first, imparted comfortably to the faceless reader – for wishing to remain in, and often longing for, the safety net of English life. That is, until she finds herself taking journeys to rediscover a past she thought she had forgotten, the family she had left behind, and the life she might have lived had things been different.

Beautifully packaged in a most interesting cover, there is more to this book than meets the eye. Perhaps surprisingly, for a travelogue, it has been received remarkably well by both The Guardian and The Telegraph, who pointed to Wiwa’s refreshing honesty and far-from-baby-proof-handling of her country of birth. She is indeed frank and often brutal about the fierce corruption and extremities of poverty in Nigeria, but she is also mordantly funny when it comes to her fellow countrymen, and presents a not unappealing account of a place most people would never think of visiting.

A travel book may not be the ideal companion if you’re curled up in bed with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit, but who’s to say that it isn’t a better way to transport you on those flights of fancy so longed for after a hard day, while at the same time keeping you rooted to the world in which we live. It would be nice to think that Wiwa’s jaunty, familiar style took her by surprise, considering her past with Nigeria. Might it not do the same for you?