Taduno is a musician from Nigeria living in exile. He sang songs against the military regime and had to flee. He was beaten so badly his voice was affected and he can no longer sing with the sweet voice that made him famous. Somehow he has been allowed to live in an unoccupied house, undisturbed, welcomed even, by the people of a foreign town.
Then he receives a letter from his girlfriend Lela, telling him that everything in Nigeria has changed. How could she know where to find him? The letter doesn’t even have an address.
Fearing what has happened, Taduno goes home to Lagos where no one recognises him, not even his neighbours who lived beside him for decades. And Lela has disappeared.
I loved Taduno’s Song. From the very first pages the book is infused with the power of well-written and cleverly conceived magical realism. Names like Calvino and Borges resound in African tones. There is a timeless quality to the places and people of Taduno’s Song that makes them sing. You feel the mystery of myth, the stirring of allegory working through narrative to create something very moving and beautiful. I particularly like the town where Taduno lives in exile:
‘It was a very beautiful town indeed, and for hours he roamed the largely deserted streets shrouded in secret and ageless silence. The town boasted very stately houses, many unoccupied, as stated by small silver signs posted on low gates. He discovered that every empty house had a key in the front lock, as if waiting to be occupied, begging to be occupied. He wondered at the sheer magnificence of the houses. He wondered at the manicured gardens. He roamed the streets until his legs got weary. And then he settled into a small white house with a big garden in a remote neighbourhood where life is as quiet at midday as at midnight.’ (Loc. 84)
Without his voice, Taduno is nothing. He can’t sing for Lela’s freedom, nor can his song of rebellion reawaken a nation.
It is exceedingly difficult to create a narrative like this, to build something allegorical out of the mess of the world, but Odafe Atogun succeeds in creating a spellbinding novel that I hope will reach huge audiences. Taduno’s Song is a terrifying but beautiful story about the power of myth and how people can make their own freedom if they question and act upon what it actually means to be free. Perhaps in real life there aren’t the miracles afforded to legend, but those freedoms are still worthy of sacrifice.
Next week I’m reading Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer.