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Better you read it.
Okay. So can you tell us what is the most important thing readers need to know about this novel?
The book is many things at once, travels in many directions, explores a number of possibilities in an effort to engage the reader and engage the world. I hope that anyone who reads the book will resist any inclination to try and pigeon-hole it as say a historical novel, or a novel about slavery and Reconstruction, or a novel about a musician, since it is all those things and more.
Can you tell me something extraordinary?
I made it with a dolphin yesterday.
How was it?
Do you really wish you could’ve gotten out of work sooner? Do you really wish that, or are you just being overly apologetic in hopes that your one-time girlfriend and current pitying host will forget that she ran into you at the Whole Foods bean bar where she felt obligated to invite you to her “Tuesday supper club” because she “knows it’s tough to be in a new town”. Do you really wish you could’ve gotten out of work sooner? Because your nervous stomach and that fresh bile stain on your collar tell a different story.
Do you really not need your ex to introduce you to any of her friends? Do you really think you’ll be fine navigating the party on your own, or is this just a reflexive attempt to thrust yourself into a situation wherein you might add to your empty arsenal of easygoing guy qualifications? Do you really not need your ex to introduce you to any of her friends? Because while you sat at work, hiccuping back vomit and debating whether or not you’d attend this party, every guest became immersed in conversation about mutual friends whom you’ve never met, would hate you, and are coming soon.
Do you really want to live in Africa? Do you really want to, or is this just something you’re saying now because you’re drinking a glass of Malbec and there’s a good-looking girl with leather bracelets and uncombed hair sitting next to you? Do you really want to live in Africa? Because no one there will care that you “appreciate Infinite Jest more at thirty than at nineteen” or have a friend who works at Google; in Africa, tenuous ties to accomplishment still wouldn’t be fodder for introductions.
Do you really love this obscure bossa nova record? Do you really love it, or do you just feel like unbuttoning your shirt one more notch wasn’t enough to make you seem like an aficionado of all things alternative? Do you really love this obscure bossa nova record? Because the kind of people who love this record didn’t even wear shirts to this party and won’t put one on until they fly to their Peace Corps reunion in Senegal next week.
Do you really wish Alain could’ve come tonight? Do you really wish he could’ve, or do you just want everyone to know that you and your host have a French mutual friend? Do you really wish Alain could’ve come tonight? Because if he came, he’d barely recognize you and comment to your enthralled former girlfriend about New York audiences appreciating bossa nova in a “façon” totally different from the Brazilians.
Do you really hate Mitt Romney? Do you really hate him, or do you just think having a strong negative opinion about a conservative politician will make up for the fact that you wore loafers to a flip flop fest? Do you really hate Mitt Romney? Because if you hated him, you’d be too busy right now to give conservatism a thought; you’d be texting Alain about yoga retreats and Freegan microenterprises in fluent French.
Do you really think dinner is even better than the appetizers? Do you really think that, or have you just not spoken since your Romney comment? Do you really think dinner is even better than the appetizers? Because thinking that would mean you’d eaten one single olive tapenade cracker while precariously fielding questions about why you think Mitt is “worse than Hitler and Bin Laden combined.”
Do you really prefer Italian filmmakers to American? Do you really prefer them, or has Todd Phillips made every movie you’ve seen in the past five years? Do you really prefer Italian filmmakers to American? Because liking the bruschetta and penne alla vodka you’re eating better than the olive tapenade just means you have the palate of a nine-year-old; it doesn’t mean you know anything about Rossellini’s neorealism.
Do you really hope to get back to Europe soon? Do you really hope to, or are you just glad that your time studying abroad in Barcelona has enabled you to seem nostalgic for a place other than Disney World? Do you really hope to get back to Europe soon? Because the locales you’re remembering as “incredible” and “unforgettable” seem to be recollections of landmarks other guests mentioned five minutes ago, during the Italian filmmaker conversation.
Do you really wish you could stay? Do you really wish that, or would one more minute at this dining room table fashioned from unlacquered Balian driftwood cause your restless leg to bob so high it knocks the glasses off your soon-to-be-forgotten face? Do you really wish you could stay?
Because, it’s really fucking okay if you fucking really don’t fucking wish that at all.
I’ll get one thing out of the way first of all, to address whose in the know, and as a point of interest for those who aren’t. “Akata” is to some a pretty nasty word. It’s Nigerian Pidgin deriving from the Yoruba for bush civet cat, and is used as an epithet for Americans of African descent. Some people claim it’s not derogatory in intent, but I don’t really buy that given the context in which I hear it used most of the time. It certainly leaves an offensive taste in the mouth of many Nigerians, especially in diaspora. Yeah, taboo language sometimes marks the most superficially surprising vectors. Nnedi Okorafor, author of the recent fantasy novel Akata Witch (Viking, 2011 ISBN: 978-0-670-01196-4), is well aware of the controversy she courts with its title. It takes an extraordinary book to put such an abrasive first impression into the background, and in short, I think Nnedi has well accomplished this.
December 01, 2010
I’ve long trumpeted (most recently in “50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 3”) the marvelous efflorescence of young Nigerian writers, and especially Nigerian women writers, both in Nigeria and in diaspora. I’m not much of a reader of novels, but I waste no time getting stuck into any new work by Adichie, Oyeyemi orDisney to produce a chapter book in the Disney Fairies series, tentatively titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog.
This is a continuation of a series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1. For items 17-32, see part 2. In this final installment I include a few observations I’ve culled from my father’s memoir of his life in Nigeria and abroad “Seeing the World in Black & White.” (SWBW) (AWP, 2006)¹
33. Modern Nigerian literature, ever vibrant, is certainly on the up. Young as it is Nigeria has already had an early generation of great writers, household names such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, not to mention the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Christopher Okigbo, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, and even the prolific pulp novelist Dan Fulani. It’s almost too much to ask for more, but as it happens, we have much, much more with new generations exploding on to the scene, including poets Chris Abani, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguibe and lesser known contemporaries such as Chinweizu. But the real earthquake manifests in novel form, with the emergence of the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, and Nnedi
This is a continuation of my series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1.
17. Nobody deploys the witty put-down quite like Wafi and Safi boys (and girls). You know it by many names: “the dozens,” “snaps,” “cracks,” “yo mama jokes,” and such. The tradition of non-violent contests of wits through rapid-fire mutual insults is well know anywhere Black culture has left a mark. But in my travels I don’t think I’ve met any group that dishes it out quite as expertly as folks from the Niger delta towns of Warri and Sapele (AKA Wafi and Safi), rendered in the particularly extravagant brand of Pidgin English for which that region is famous. I myself still bear the scars from some such encounters. And if you are trying to get cozy with a girl from that region, you had better come correct, or you might not survive the resulting put-down.
Nigeria’s 50th birthday was a fortnight ago. On October 1, 1960, the British officially turned over sovereignty of the country to the Speaker of the newly independent Nigerian Parliament, Jaja Wachuku, in the form of the Freedom Charter. The new nation nearly convulsed apart within ten years, and in many ways, it’s amazing such an entity has survived intact, an agglomeration of hundreds of ethnic groups (and indigenous languages), many of which were so recently colonized by Britannia that they were not very warm to the idea of sharing political commonwealth with a bunch of circumstantial peers.
The holiday got me thinking of what it means to me to be a Nigerian, born in Nigeria, educated in Nigeria and abroad, living (and naturalized) in the USA, but with a very strong sense of rootedness off the Bight of Bonny. Nigeria is enormous. I’ve read estimates that a quarter of all black people in the world are of recent Nigerian origin. Among such multitudes there is so much to say that I’ve just begged off to a series of vignettes in a number that suits the occasion, and I’ve broken the expansive result into three parts. Please do join me in this sampler from our enormous platter.
I am crazy about poetry. Absolutely besotted. Poetry has helped me though the darkest days I’ve endured; it’s calmed me down during minor surgeries; it’s helped me remember experiences I never want to lose to the horizon; and it’s helped me put out of my mind destructive vexations. Poetry is so utterly a part of my life, my everyday, that I am still astonished when I run into people who dislike poetry, who distrust poetry, who even fear poetry. As any lover prickles in unrest unless everyone else acknowledges the magnificence of their beloved, I find myself wanting to draw my friends, my family, my colleagues into my inductive field of admiration.
This column is for those who are nervous about poetry, those who have had a nervous breakdown from the effects of poetry stuffed down their gullets by bad teachers. For those who have felt belittled or just bewildered by what they have been cajoled to admire, under pain of being called Philistines. For those who have found their intelligence insulted by shallow irrelevance. This column is not about educating you, but rather sharing delights with you, with the full understanding that you will like some of it, and dislike some of it, and that, that’s OK. I’ll present different ideas and themes regarding poetry each time, and I’ll always have a poem or two to share, and I hope I can put you in the mood to share alike. To tell me why the poems I pick work for you, or why they do not. To tell me in general why you love or hate poetry. Each column is just a touchstone for discussion. I want to hear about your experiences with poetry, or lack of same, whether good or bad, satisfying or enervating.
I’ve decided to post this list after having kept it scrawled in notebooks over the years. The inspiration for it comes from one of my favorite people on this planet, Tom Rhodes. He has a list of over 1000 things he simply calls “Happiness”. I started keeping my own list a few years ago – which has been edited and updated and deleted from sporadically over time – but still serves as my own reminder that there are far more good things than bad on these little paths we all stumble down.
We recently went on a trip to Africa. Plane one: three and a half hours to New York. Plane two: fourteen hours to Dubai. Plane three: ten hours to Johannesburg. This does not include the waiting times between planes. We all hoped to get some sleep, but it is not easy to sleep when your body says that it is daytime. Victor decided that for the last flight, the ten hours to Johannesburg, he would insure his rest by taking a sleeping pill. Victor had never taken a sleeping pill before, in fact, he rarely takes any medication except the very little prescribed by his doctor.
We were served a meal. (On these kinds of flights you are served meals on a regular basis. You eat these meals because they are right there in front of you. They taste like airplane food.) Victor and I were sitting in the middle of the cabin in the middle of the plane in a four-seat row with our friends, Ken and Cindy.
“I’m going to take an Ambien,” Victor announced.
“Why?” I asked. Victor is known by all who know him as a person who can sleep anywhere at any time under any conditions.
Here is some convincing photographic evidence of Victor’s aforementioned abilities:
Victor on the bed, before peeing, after work and before dinner
Victor asleep on the dog crate, after work, before peeing and before dinner
Victor in the airport in Bhutan
Victor on Safari at Kruger National Park
Please understand that there were lions and rhinos and hippos and warthogs and springboks and zebras and giraffes and, well, you get the idea….
Here is Victor on the bus traveling through the bush in Africa, where we passed ostriches and elephants and wild dogs and leopards and cape buffalo and hyenas and all flavor of monkeys….
I think it may be genetic.
“Because I want to be sure to be rested so I don’t miss anything,” he said. “In fact, I’m going to take it with my meal.” He also had a glass of wine with his meal. You don’t have to pay for wine on long flights, even back in steerage where we were. Victor does not like to pass up anything that is free. Another thing you should know about Victor is that he is virtually never publicly affectionate. Our kids have named the hug they try to give him after not seeing him for a long time: “The Hug and Shove.”
On Emirates Airlines, there is a screen in front of each seat with hours of movies, TV shows, music and computer games. The lights had been dimmed to simulate nighttime.
I was watching a movie. Victor began poking me. I used hand gestures to indicate I was watching a movie. He continued to poke me. I told him that I was watching a movie. He poked me some more. I took off my earphones and looked at him. He was grinning.
“Let’s cuddle,” he said.
“Cuddle?” I asked.
We usually reserve our cuddling to the bedroom. We were on an airbus with four to five hundred people.
Victor became quite insistent. There began a tussle whereby I tried to hold his hands down while he made it quite clear that he needed his hands free to pursue certain maneuvers familiar to me, but only in the bedroom. Victor was amorous. The struggle went on for quite some time. It was a heated grappling. Spectators started gathering. Our group assembled in the aisle. More onlookers appeared.
We were quite the hit on a boring flight. Finally I suggested that he put his blanket over his head, which is a trick he uses to breathe carbon dioxide and become sleepy. Oddly, he reacted immediately by covering up his head. Ken and Cindy, both medical professionals, told me that he was actually quite asleep and to watch him carefully because there was no telling what he might do. Ken and Cindy and I all stayed awake to watch him.
He took off the blanket and shouted: “Argentina!” He pulled his blanket back over his head. He took the blanket off several times to meticulously bite his nails and then covered himself back up. He removed the blanket again saying: “Get in touch with Ken and Cindy and tell them it will be Wednesday, if that works for them.” Back under the blanket he went. Frequently, he would remove the blanket and either utter some gibberish or grin and wave giddily at the three of us with him in the row, eyes wide open.
After he had been quiet for awhile, I began to let my guard down and went back to my movie. Ken pulled my sleeve.
“Victor has to stop that! It isn’t safe.”
I looked at Victor. He had taken out all the cash for our vacation, which had been in the “secret” pouch around his neck, and was counting it out loud in his seat.
“Victor, stop that!” I exclaimed.
“You are not the boss of me;” he replied, “you can’t tell me what to do.”
“I may not be your boss, but you need to put our money away now.” I said. He continued to count the money. Out loud.
Ken said: “Victor! Put that away now!” Victor quietly put the money back in his “secret” neck wallet and went under the blanket again. Apparently, Ken’s advice was given more credence than mine.
This had been going on for hours. It seemed a good time for me to get up and take a bathroom break. Ken and Cindy got up and I exited that way, so as not to disturb Victor. They took up watch. I just made the turn to the bathroom when I heard Ken yell.
“’HE’S ON THE MOVE, IRENE!”
I hurried to the other aisle and found him wandering about.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“Nowhere. Why are you following me? he asked.
“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” I asked.
“Could be,” he replied.
I walked him to the bathroom and stood outside. He was inside for a very long time. The toilet never flushed. I was beginning to think that I would have to send Ken or Cindy to get a cabin attendant to free him from the bathroom. At long last, Victor emerged from the bathroom. I was relieved to see that he was fully dressed, since one of the scenarios our friends and I had discussed was that he might just disrobe in the bathroom and come out buck-naked. He had not used the toilet. I can only assume he was making faces in the mirror.
When he saw me outside waiting for him, he asked:
“Why are you here? You are always spying on me!”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, honey,” I said, “I’ll try not to bother you.”
I maneuvered him back to his seat and told him to sit down. He was eerily compliant. He explained that he didn’t want to sit. He wanted to take a walk. I used my ace-in-the-hole and said:
“If you sit down, I’ll rub your head until you go to sleep.”
Victor will do close to anything to get his head rubbed, evidently even while asleep. He sat down and I covered him with the blanket again. He took it off and asked:
“Why are you covering me up?”
“Head rubs are better under the blanket,” I declared.
“Oh. Okay,” he said, and settled into his seat. I buckled him in, wishing I had handcuffs, and covered him with the blanket. I stood in the aisle and rubbed his head continuously until I saw that he had finally stopped fidgeting. Then I walked around to the other aisle and Ken and Cindy let me through to my seat.
After an endless wait, the lights came up slowly in the cabin and the cabin attendants came around with another meal. Victor pulled off his blanket and proclaimed his vast hunger.
“I feel really rested,” he noted.
“Are you awake?” I asked.
“Of course I’m awake. You are ridiculous,” he answered.
He had no memory of anything he had said or done, except, oddly, the counting of his money.
It is my heart-felt advice that you should not take your first Ambien on a plane. First take it in bed, with someone carefully watching.
This is hilarious. Where was the video camera when you needed it most? Oh, life is just one missed opportunity after another. Keep up the great writing.