OWNERSHIP, VENOM AND OIL THEFT IN LAWRENCE AMAESHI’S SWEET CRUDE ODYSSEY
Title: Sweet Crude Odyssey
Author: Lawrence Amaeshi
Length: 340 pages
Publisher / Year: Kachifo Independent Publishing (Prestige)/2016
Where it Can Be Found: Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Okadabooks.
The plot of Sweet Crude Odyssey is centered on Bruce Abel Telema, a protagonist who makes a not-so-difficult decision to go rogue. Initially towing the straight and narrow, he is pushed to the wall when he loses his job then gets singled out to be point man in an elaborate crude oil theft ring. He accepts the offer. It does not take him very long to become successful so when the grief or the human angle of this story is told, it is from his co- hustlers; the ones who navigate the creeks, who battle a terrain as difficult as it is dangerous, who humanise the struggle and reality that is environmental degradation, oil spillage, hopelessness and the bare-knuckle fight for survival in an environment supplying life to Nigeria’s mono-material economy.
In a Twitter interview I asked the author if he blames the real life men and women who, having the choice or the lack of it, flip over to the other side. In his reply he removes himself from a position of judgement, insisting his characters just mirror what they could.
Sweet Crude Odyssey isn’t all work and no play though. You will find relief in the names of characters, maybe only rivalled by those in Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. In the same interview the author insists the decision about the names was to hide the identity of the players but I suspect this is to provide some comedy in the face of seriousness. There are all sorts: Africa, Acid, Bad Country, Apostrophe, Danger Get Mate, General Commander.
Bruce faithfully undertakes his new role as a stakeholder in the theft business both at home and abroad. It paid too because he could no longer be called poor; he has more than enough. This continues until there is a new deal and all bets are off. This new deal is make or break and in the book you will find out if it makes or breaks Bruce.
Amaeshi’s book does not read like a debut. It starts a bit slowly but picks up steam as the plot progresses. The language is confident, if sometimes verbose: “ubiquitous, nocturnal insects danced around the weak, incandescent glow, intoxicated by its luminance and bumped into the bulb in their ecstatic trance.”
Time in the book proceeds, sometimes, at an unhurried pace and, sometimes, at breakneck speed. On one page there’s Daisy; on the next, a 10-year old relationship with Daisy had come and gone.
I cannot confirm if there was a Nissan Murano in 2006 as told on Page 49; what I can confirm are instances where the author pulls a Dan Brown. This seemed like a bid to show off all the intensive research that went into writing the novel.
In the end, I was thankful for the existence of the book. It adds to what is an important conversation, difficult even. This is especially important in a Nigeria which flees from any and every appearance of a difficult conversation.
For a debut novel, by an author not identifiably Niger Deltan to be centered on Nigeria’s oil issues raises questions of appropriation. As a non-victim of the despoilation going on in that region, is it his story to tell? Why tell this story and not one that intersects with his or his region’s own experiences? Can an “outsider” angle be regarded as authentic? Can he capture the anger, the truth, the reality?
This author did.