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Book Review. The Sleepless by Nuzo Onoh


By peter on 1st July 2016

A dark horror story, steeped in supernatural suspense and based on the author's experiences growing up in war-torn Biafra, The Sleepless is the latest bone-chiller from Nuzo Onoh, the British-Nigerian author dubbed the ‘Queen of African Horror’. 9781909484863Set against the backdrop of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War of the late 1960s, which the author actually lived through, this is a tale of evil acts carried out on innocent children, and of wronged and restless spirits hungry for revenge. The most shocking events of the book, however, are perpetrated not by the ghouls and wraiths of the story, but by mere mortals. The story takes place in a small Nigerian town where blood sacrifices are commonplace and curses, hauntings and demonic possessions are seen as part of the fabric of life - and death. The novel grips the reader’s attention from the very first pages. The blood-curdling scene is set when a father lures his young son, who has Down’s syndrome and a polio-weakened leg, to a dark forest where gruesome cats prowl. The boy has been promised a ‘secret present’, but instead is offered as a sacrifice to the local witchdoctor. In exchange, the witchdoctor promises that the man will soon have a “healthy” son. The rest of the story is shown from the point of view of the boy’s young sister, Obele. Since birth, Obele has been guided by a protective ‘Mother Voice’ who whispers to her the terrible truth about her brother’s death. Obele soon learns that she must not speak of the voice in her head. Suspected of witchcraft and demonic possession, she is less afraid of the undead than she is of the living. Obele’s father is a brutally violent man, and Obele knows that her brother is not the only child in the village to have met a cruel fate at the hands of heartless adults. Guided by the ‘Mother Voice’, Obele begins to communicate with the ghosts of murdered children, and finds herself protected against death by their terrifying supernatural powers. But at what price is this ghostly protection? Who does the Mother Voice belong to, and does it mean her harm? Since releasing her first book, 2014’s short story collection The Reluctant Dead, Nuzo Onoh has quickly gained a reputation for having launched a new sub-genre of horror writing: African Horror. The Sleepless continues in this vain, weaving in West African folklore and culture to provide something new and out of the ordinary for even the most hardened horror fan. The supernatural elements of the book are far from the only terrifying aspects of this story, which deals with real-world issues including child sacrifice, sexual abuse, opposing religions, and the horrors of war. Indeed, the author’s first-hand experiences of growing up in war-torn Biafra enrich the narrative and brings a level of authenticity and vividness to the novel that no amount of research by itself could hope to convey. Despite The Sleepless being entertainment, albeit of the most frightening kind, it is sobering to think of the millions of children who lost their lives during the civil war – something Nuzo touches on in the book’s introduction with a heart-felt dedication to all those figures, including author Frederick Forsyth, who helped raise awareness in the West of the atrocities taking place in Biafra. Not for the faint of heart, The Sleepless will thrill readers who like their ghost stories to haunt them long after the last page is turned. The book was also featured on The Arts Hour, BBC World Service (broadcast), aired July 3, 2016 The Sleepless (Canaan-Star Publishing) by Nuzo Onoh is out now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £2.99 as an eBook. Visit

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