Onitsha (novel)

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First Edition English cover
AuthorJ. M. G. Le Clézio
TranslatorAlison Anderson
LanguageFrench translated into English
GenreComing of Age
PublisherUniversity of Nebraska Press
Publication date
1991 (French), 1997 (English)
Media typePrint (Paperback and Hardcover)
Pages206 pp

Onitsha is a novel by French Nobel laureate writer J. M. G. Le Clézio. It was originally published in French in 1991 and an English translation was released in 1997.

Plot summary[edit]

Onitsha tells the story of Fintan, a young European boy who travels from Bordeaux to the port of Marseilles to sail along the coast of Africa to the mouth of the Niger River to Onitsha in colonial Nigeria with his Italian mother (nicknamed Maou) in the year 1948. Warren Motte wrote a review in World Literature Today to note that, like many of Le Clézio's writings Onitsha is a novel of apprenticeship. He mentions that the very first words of the novel inscribe the theme of the journey and announce that it will occupy the foreground of the tale and he quotes a passage from Onitsha to exemplify Fintan's reluctance to embark upon that journey

It was a long journey as Le Clézio wrote:


They were intending to meet Geoffroy Allen (Fintan's English father an oil company executive who is obsessed with uncovering the area's ancient history by tracking down myths and legends) whom Fintan has never met.
Onitsha depicts childhood, because it is written semi-autobiographically,[2] but seen through the eyes of Fintan and to lesser extent his father, and his mother, who is not able to fit in with the colonial society of the town of Onitsha with its casual acceptance of 'native' slave labour.[3] Le Clézio wrote:


Eventually, Fintan's father loses his job with the United Africa Company and moves the family first to London, then to the south of France.[6] Sabine Rhodes, another British National, already a miscast in the colony recognises the inevitable

[7] The novel ends on a note of rebellion against the white rulers and points towards the coming of the neocolonialism of conglomerates which would finally begin another form of economic exploitation of a country rich in oil.[8]


The book is a critique on racism and the vestiges of colonialism as seen from the youthful perspective of the main character

Throughout the book, Fintan's rejection of colonialism is symbolized by the attacks of his mother Maou, who increasingly speaks out against the way the colonials treat the indigenous people. The book seemingly mimics Le Clézio's own life, especially when the character travels back to Africa in an attempt to fill in the sense of loss he had suffered, to renew it in his mind, a task that ends in a dead end.[9]

Translating Onitsha[edit]

Alison Anderson is the author of Darwin's Wink and the translator of seventeen books, including The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Anderson wrote about how it was for her to have translated Onitsha for the fall 1997 edition of World Literature Today [10]

Alison Anderson published her own synopsis of Onitsha[11]

Publication history[edit]

First French Edition[edit]

  • Le Clézio, J.M.G. (1991). Onitsha (in French). Paris: Gallimard ( Folio, 2472). p. 288. ISBN 978-2-07-038726-7.

First English translation[edit]

  • Le Clezio, J. M. G.; translated by Alison Anderson (1997). Onitsha. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8032-7966-7.

Second English translation[edit]

  • Le Clezio, J. M. G.; translated by Alison Anderson (1997). Onitsha. Bison Books. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8032-7966-7.

External links[edit]


A "Google Book search" accesses the contents of the book as well as giving a list of places mentioned in the book and also accesses the reader to an excerpt of the English version of Onitsha (chapter one "A long Voyage").Onitsha By Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (Alison Anderson) at Google Books


  1. ^ The Washington Post quoted this excerpt from OnitshaLe Clézio (2008-10-10). "From 'Onitsha'". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
  2. ^ "Bio-bibliography Le Clézio". The Swedish Academy. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-19. The emphasis in Le Clézio's work has increasingly moved in the direction of an exploration of the world of childhood and of his own family history. This development began with Onitsha (1991; Onitsha, 1997)
  3. ^ "J.M.G. Le Clézio: Onitsha". Jayaprakash(goodreads). World Literature Forum. 2008-09-01. Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
  4. ^ Le Clézio (2008-10-10). "Excerpt from Onitsha". University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved 2009-01-05. This excerpt from Onitsha was selected by Lars Rydquist , head librarian, Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy which awarded Le Clézio the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2008."Video of the Event(Prose)Le Clézio". Nobel Web AB 2009. 2008-12-07. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 2008 Nobel Laureate in Literature Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio reads an excerpt from his book "Onitsha". The video was recorded in Stockholm .
  5. ^ Le Clézio (2008-10-10). "Extrait d'Onitsha". choisis par Lars Rydquist (in French). Éditions Gallimard. Retrieved 2009-01-05. Le Clézio's excerpt from Onitsha can also be read in the original French
  6. ^ "ONITSHA (Mass Market Paperback)". From Publishers Weekly. amazon.ca. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  7. ^ "Onitsha Jean Mari Gustav Le Clezio(Translated by Alison Anderson)". Brain Drain. 2008-11-04. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  8. ^ "In the heart of darkness". RUMINA SETHI. Literary Review. 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008. Though it uses European cultural referents, Onitsha is an evocative and realistic depiction of imperialism in West Africa.
  9. ^ Dixler, Elsa (2008-12-26). "Paperback Row". New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2008. ONITSHA.... is a semiautobiographical novel about an Italian boy’s journey to Africa, where his British father works. At first delighted by the local culture and beautiful surroundings, he comes to understand the cruelty and racism of the colonial society
  10. ^ "Translating J.M.G. Le Clezio". Alison Anderson "Translating J.M.G. Le Clezio". She is the translator of J. M. G. Le Clezio's 1991 novel Onitsha(1997)University of Oklahoma. World Literature Today. . FindArticles.com. 1997. Retrieved 1 January 2009.[dead link]
  11. ^ "Onitsha by J. M. G. Le Clezio, Alison Anderson (Translator)". Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-01.