A reworking of an earlier book titled The Landscapes Within, Dangerous Love (1996) is a novel by Ben Okri, the first Black author to win the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991 with The Famished Road.
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, during the 1970s, Dangerous Love follows the story of Omovo, a young man who finds himself trapped in a life that is anything but easy: his mother is dead and his brothers escaped a home controlled by a recently remarried, violent and disillusioned father. The only things that are keeping Omovo together are his two sources of love: the art of painting and Ifeyiwa, a beautiful woman who, despite reciprocating his feelings, is already married to a man she was forced to accept as her husband. Art and love are the two biggest forces in Omovo’s life, sources of light in a world that is still fighting against the ghosts of the past and the heavy burden of all the lives lost during the Biafran Civil War.
Art plays such a relevant role within the novel that Dangerous Love could be considered, more than a Bildungsroman, as a Künstlerroman: the term refers to the artist’s growth into maturity, both from the perspective of his artistic productions and of his understanding of Art as a tool of liberation for society at large. At the beginning of the novel, painting is an unconscious act for Omovo, a relief and an escape from the pain of reality, but one that does not hold a real purpose. After a painful process of personal growth, however, Omovo will come to conceive of Art not only as an individual act of emancipation but also as a form of resistance against a corrupted society that still has not atoned for the fathers’ faults. The Nigeria described by Okri is a country that has been destroyed by years of colonialism and civil war, a country that seems incapable of finding its identity again.
In this sense, the novel also explores the conflictual gap between generations: on the one side, there is the old generation of Omovo’s father that has been humiliated and exploited throughout decades of colonial rule; on the other side, there is the new generation Omovo belongs to, the one that will be the future of Nigeria. However, the youths find themselves trapped in a limbo of cultural ambivalence and mimicry, hating their white oppressors while at the same time desiring to be part of Western society, blinded by wealth and promises.
As above mentioned, the novel is also the story of the love between Omovo and Ifeyiwa: what first started as an innocent friendship, soon turns into a dangerous passion. A dangerous love, as the title recites, because of the violent antagonism of Ifeyiwa’s husband, but also because love can be a force that takes control of our lives, making us forget and sacrifice our own selves. Dangerous Love is also a bit of a choral novel, constellated by various characters whose different stories all have one thing in common: a desire for redemption from a past that still seems to command the present. A story about an individual Bildung that translates into a nation’s collective attempt at salvation. And a story about the power of love and art as tools for the construction of a cultural identity finally liberated from the ghosts of past tragedies.