Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."


Naipaul‘s Enigma of Arrival left me thinking about ruins. Whether its a dilapidated house, a dead tree, or a burnt down motorcar on the side of the highway, ruins make me uneasy. Like a dried out human skull, ruins remind me of the death and decay that nothing in this world can escape. Ruins scream out to me the old latin phrase: Memento Mori!  Remember you must die!

But then ruins can simply be sad. In Benin City, my family lived in one of the Federal Housing Estates. About two miles north of our house, there stood a curious building. An ambitious architectural project. A state secretariat of some kind. It was massive. It had to have been the architectural fantasy of some military governor, who was no longer in office. Like many of the abandoned projects that litter the city, this building stood as a witness to the ruin to which military dictatorship brought the world over which they ruled and perhaps the ruin that the military would become in the following years when Nigeria became a democracy.

Anytime I walked the small bush path that brushed past the corrugated zinc fence of the building, I felt sad.  The thing is that the building was no where near completion. My guess is that the visionary governor left office and no one cared to continue with what seemed like a private dream of grandeur.

A curious spectacle,  these open houses, with their floorboards suspended over the abyss…their staircases leading nowhere now, their cellars open to the sky, their bizarre collapsed interiors and battered ruins. (94, Walter BenjaminThe Arcades Project)

A building decaying before completion. This was a strange kind of afterlife. It’s like dying before one was even born. Passing by that building left me queazy. Walls blackened by sun-scorched algae. Broken-down cranes. Heaps and heaps of rotting plywood. Rusted zinc fence. The eerie silence broken by scurrying lizards or a falling window frame. I found the building in its ruined state when we moved to that neighborhood in the early 90s. And when we left many years later, it had still not been saved from its deepening decay. I remember I could not help thinking that that building had always to have been a ruin. There could not have been a moment in which it was anything else.

But then there are funny ruins like the 80s. A decade of  catastrophes in music, fashion, film. A ten-year pile up of wreckage upon wreckage.

On the subject of ruins, I stumbled upon this short film titled Ruin. It was done OddBall Animation. Cool stuff. For more stuff about the Ruin Project:

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


Photos | Pages & Palette Hosts Reading of Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men in Abuja

Lives of Great Men - Frankie Edozien at Pages & Palette -- photo by Victor Adewale (9)

Last December, Abuja bookstore Pages & Palette hosted a reading of Chike Frankie Edozien’s memoir Lives of Great Men. Published […]

Mauritanian Blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir Has Now Been in Jail for 5 Years

mohamed mkhaitir

In December 2013, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir wrote a blogpost criticizing his country’s government for using religion to discriminate against minorities. […]

Read Chapter One of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities

an orchestra of minorities - graph

Chigozie Obioma’s second novel An Orchestra of Minorities was published this January. As part of The Summer Library’s “selected extracts from […]

Laila Lalami’s Fourth Novel, The Other Americans, Is a Family Saga, a Murder Mystery, and a Love Story

laila lalami - alchetron - graph

Laila Lalami’s new novel is forthcoming on 26 March 2019 from Pantheon, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The 320-page […]

Thursday’s Children: 11 Contributors to Forthcoming Anthology Discuss Experimentation and the Nature of Creative Nonfiction

thursday's children - graph

Thursday’s Children is a forthcoming anthology of personal essays. Co-edited by Adams Adeosun and Bello Damilare, it comes with an […]

Clickbait | Saddiq Dzukogi | Poetry

image by Esther Vargas from flickr

Inspired by the Western media coverage of the Dusit Hotel terror attack in Nairobi.   At the Dusit restaurant in […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.