In Eclipse, Richard North Patterson focuses on an American lawyer’s desperate struggle to save an embattled freedom fighter in an oil-rich African nation that resembles Nigeria.
Was there a particular event that led to your writing this book?
The genesis of Eclipse lies in tragic events that occurred in Nigeria almost 15 years ago, when a courageous environmental and human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was hanged by Gen. Sani Abacha, the country’s brutal and corrupt dictator. The crime of which Saro-Wiwa stood accused, on flimsy evidence, was ordering the murder of four local chiefs who were his political rivals. In the minds of most observers, Saro-Wiwa’s true crime was to protest the excesses of the government and petroleum companies in the Niger Delta.
Did you travel to Nigeria for your research?
Immersion in Nigeria was central to writing the novel. Because it’s a country of staggering complexity, and because I worried about doing a serious injustice to Nigeria and its people, I invented Luandia, which is based on aspects of Nigeria without being a complete depiction of an actual place. One example of this process is the fictional city of Waro, which I based on Lagos. Even driving from the airport to Lagos required a three-vehicle security caravan. Everything I portray is real: the sweltering smog; the beggars dodging traffic; the floating slums devoid of electricity and potable water and festering with disease, crime and prostitution.
Were you ever in real danger?
I intended to travel to the Niger Delta to meet with the armed militants who are battling the government, but a week or so before my trip the security firm I’d hired to protect me from kidnapping and extortion—a common practice in the Delta—informed me that there was no way to keep me safe there. Specifically, they worried that the armed militia who carry out such kidnappings had spun out of control and that the Nigerian security services would take a very dim view of my research. After some back-and-forth, I finally decided to heed this advice.
The scenes of brutality and murder are shocking. How difficult were they to write?
In writing material like this, I try to detach myself emotionally. The point is to render those scenes with specificity yet restraint, conveying their horror with clarity but without excess. To me, a realistic portrayal of hard things is part of the writer’s work.