cover image Stars of the New Curfew

Stars of the New Curfew

Ben Okri. Viking Books, $17.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82520-2

The central theme in this brilliant collection of African short stories is the difficulty of standing one's ground in a world where superstition, poverty and irresponsible use of power combine to destroy effective social bonds. In the title piece, an unholy mix of alcohol, oil of marijuana and chloroform called Power-Drug causes a bus crash and the deaths of seven people. Conscience-stricken, the nostrum seller who unwittingly caused the disaster flees to his old village for refuge and consolation. But there he is caught up and nearly killed in a power struggle between the town's two richest men. Back in the city, he reflects that there are few consolations for a decent man--perhaps after all the only way to survive in his country is to seek the protection of the powerful. Other stories deal with wanton destruction caused by unbridled military power, a love affair gone wrong and the passage of a palm tapper into the hereafter and back again. Okri, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Africa and the Paris Review Aga Khan prize for fiction, writes beautiful, dense prose. He is a modernist author, moving freely from realism to surrealism, but his work is consistently accessible, and remarkably effective. (July)