Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye

Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye

Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye

Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye


This study contextualizes magical realism within current debates and theories of postcoloniality and examines the fiction of three of its West African pioneers: Syl Cheney-Coker of Sierra Leone, Ben Okri of Nigeria and Kojo Laing of Ghana. Brenda Cooper explores the distinct elements of the genre in a West African context, and in relation to: * a range of global expressions of magical realism, from the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to that of Salman Rushdie * wider contemporary trends in African writing, with particular attention to how the realism of authors such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka has been connected with nationalist agendas. This is a fascinating and important work for all those working on African literature, magical realism, or postcoloniality.


In this book I focus on three magical realist writers of West Africa: Syl Cheney-Coker (Sierra Leone), Ben Okri (Nigeria) and Kojo Laing (Ghana). I argue that their fictions are characterized by the powerful, restless reincarnations of myth into magic and history into the universal. They are writers on the margins, inhabiting borders.

Why ‘seeing with a third eye’?

Magical realism strives, with greater or lesser success, to capture the paradox of the unity of opposites; it contests polarities such as history versus magic, the precolonial past versus the post-industrial present and life versus death. Capturing such boundaries between spaces is to exist in a third space, in the fertile interstices between these extremes of time or space:

And then suddenly, out of the centre of my forehead, an eye opened, and I saw this light to be the brightest, most beautiful thing in the world.

(Ben Okri, The Famished Road)

But there is also a third space of another kind, a theoretical position that might be called a ‘reconstituted Marxism’; a middle ground, between Marxism and postmodernist theory. This is a space that retains the central recognition that power relations underlie texts, and from which one can continue to ask materialist questions such as ‘who benefits?’; ‘In whose interests does this tale work or this device operate?’ But it is also a space in which the problem of reducing everything to class issues is acknowledged; it accepts that metaphors such as ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ are too rigid when attempting to construct the complex and global cultural networks into which we are all woven. This approach re-examines the concept of humanism and its relationship to power and oppression. It is a position that recognizes individuals as gendered, racially constituted, unevenly privileged subjects, playing out many-layered lives that are both structurally determined and also idiosyncratically forged. Such a project can ‘reintegrate’ the postmodern concern for ‘liminality, diversity, multivalency’, with the ‘historical explanatory force of

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