By Michelle Anne Schingler
In JJ Amaworo Wilson’s vibrant novel Nazaré, a tyrannical regime meets its match in a compassionate teenager who seems to command the waves.
For four generations, the vicious men of the Matanza family have ruled Balaal, sowing fear to maintain control. In the fishing village where Kin grows up, people choose docility over defiance, kept in line by the memories of failed
rebellions and nights of terror and fire. That is: until a whale is beached on their shore. Kin sees it first; he begs the
fishermen to help him rescue it, and stays with it into the night, when all others have given up on returning it to the
sea. When a giant wave sweeps in and carries the whale to safety, Kin is its only witness. The act marks a new
beginning in Balaal, whose mayor immediately regards the boy as a threat.
But death squads can’t stop a would-be leader who may be a shaman, a ghost, or a witch’s child; tyrants cannot stop rebellions that are preordained. With the help of Jesa, the widow of an unlucky fisherman, Kin sets about forming a “bedraggled, ragtag army.” They are armed with “old grievances,” painted saints, and weapons cobbled together from the detritus of passed decades; they are assisted by a bruja, a tiger, and the regime’s fetidness and presumption. They march toward the palace, determined to prevail.
Wilson’s story is a wonder, thick with magical and imaginative details. There are village houses constructed of forks
and flotsam; ancient tortoises that act as judges; and caves that measure the worth of weary travelers. Such rich
accouterments are matched in power only by the promise at the novel’s center: that even when circumstances seem hopeless, justice can prevail. Nazaré is a marvelous literary feat.
JJ Amaworo Wilson is a German-born Anglo-Nigerian-American writer. His 2016 novel, Damnificados, won three international awards, was an Oprah Top 10 pick, and has since been translated into French and German. His work has appeared in African American Journal, Justice Journal, The Penguin Book of New Black Writing, and many other publications. He is currently the writer-in-residence at Western New Mexico University.