Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures
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Storytelling Across Media

February 10th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized

Novel. Short story. Film.

Oil on Water. “The Petrol Pump.” Pumzi.

This past week, we have examined three literary pieces crafted in three different forms of media.

One, Oil on Water, a novel written by Helon Habila and published in 2010, takes us on a tumultuous journey through the war-torn and oil-drenched jungle that is the undeveloped region of Nigeria. From the eyes of a hopeful reporter, Rufus, we flash forward and backward in time before fully grasping the complexities of not only the kidnapping of a rich British petroleum engineer’s wife, but also the many power struggles within the country – racial, socio-economic, cultural – all of which find their root in a common evil: oil. In it’s vivid imagery and diction which fairly bring the inky stench of oil to life, Oil on Water provides a startling anecdotal rendition of the very real oil wars that occurred in Nigeria nine short years ago and the struggle several countries undoubtedly still face. More significantly, this novel is up close and personal. Real pain is experienced; real strife is endured.

Two, “The Petrol Pump” is a short story written by Italo Calvino in the 1970s but set in a dystopian society in which there is a severe oil shortage, such that crude oil costs $11.00/barrel and there are only certain hours in which oil is sold. The piece which captures only a small sliver of time, an instance of banal everyday existence for a speaker whose identity remains enigmatic, takes on a wonderfully lyrical tone as the first-person speaker muses to himself of the history of the oil shortage, punctuating his idle contemplation with powerful statements like: ” Money and the subterranean world are family and they go back a long way.” At the root of the dystopic world lies one uniting factor: oil.

Three, Pumzi, a short film written and directed by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu, depicts a Kenya from far in the future, one post-WWIII, the River Wars. In under twenty minutes, Kahiu establishes a futuristic world of complete destitution, one in which humans have lost all traces of individuality but rather survive mechanically, similar to machines in a world full of metal. Though they have adopted sustainable practices, they have lost the vitality of life, with even unconscious dreams crushed by the system’s “dream suppressor” drugs. One lone woman breaks from the norms of the future’s reality to take the role of Mother Earth. She cares for and protects a young seedling, ultimately prioritizing it above her own life as she selflessly gives the last of her precious water source to the plant.

Though the media through which each piece is presented differs, all three works provide emotional, vivid stories of what could, can, and will happen if we humans continue to squander the earth’s natural resources. Perhaps the ultimate uniting factor of the three stories is their universality – all messages are not limited to one culture group or people, but rather can and should be heard and acted upon by all.

Works Cited

Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. “The Petrol Pump.” Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 170-75. Print.

Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi”. Youtube. Youtube, LLC. 2013.

Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

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