Review: Taduno's Song by Odafe Atogun

Taduno’s Song, the debut novel out this month by Nigerian author Odafe Atogun, begins with a startling idea: what if you could start a revolution with music? Musical superstar Taduno did just that and was forced into exile for writing songs against the Nigerian government. But when he learns his girlfriend, Lela, has been kidnapped, he returns to Nigeria once again; this time, though, he’ll write a hit song in support of the regime to secure his girlfriend’s release.

But this won’t be easy. In a twist worthy of classic fables and myths, the government has burned all his records, erased all traces of his existence, and even when he is standing in front of his beloved neighbors, no one recognizes him. What’s worse, because of the beatings he endured before his exile, Taduno can no longer sing — he can only play beautiful, mournful songs on his secondhand guitar. The final twist comes when Taduno learns that if he can recover his voice, his legacy will be restored and the citizens of Lagos will know him — and support him — once more.

As Taduno works to recover his voice and the support of the community, he realizes he will be forced to make a grim decision: sing in praise of the government and secure the release of his girlfriend, or sing against the government and restore hope and promise to the citizens of his country.

“And then he asked himself: What is the real meaning of love? When is love a crime? He knew the answer to his second question.

Love is a crime when you love one person at the expense of the whole world. Of this crime he had become hopelessly guilty.”

Inspired by the life of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, who dared to defy the Nigerian military with his music, Taduno’s Song is a rich, multilayered work, exploring lessons of freedom, self-worth, forgiveness and faithfulness.