It takes intelligence to throw a shade and, of course, understand a shade when it’s thrown at you. But it takes a combination of intelligence and exposure to reply a shade ASAP and make it buuuurrn. That’s what Chimamanda Adichie, the world-renowned writer did to a French journalist who asked if there are
libraries bookshops in Nigeria. SMH
The writer was a speaker at the third edition of La Nuit des Idées – a panel of discussion dedicated to sharing thoughts and ideas hosted by French Embassy and involving guests from diverse backgrounds (intellectuals, researchers, artists etc.) This year’s edition themed ‘Power of Imagination’ had guests across all five continents.
While the event was going on at Quai d’Orsay in Paris, Adichie was in a discussion with a French interviewer who asked if her books were read in Nigeria. After she replied in the affirmative, the interviewer proceeded to ask her if there are bookshops in Nigeria. As expected, the writer was not caught off guard. Her sharp tongue was not tied. Chuckling, she replied, “I think it reflects poorly on France that you asked that question”.
The interview stirred mixed reactions on the internet which prompted the writer to clear the air on her facebook page. She wrote:
On Bookshops – Not Libraries – in Nigeria.
French Journalist: Are your books read in Nigeria?
French Journalist: Are there bookshops in Nigeria?
French Journalist: I ask because French people don’t know. They know only about Boko Haram.
CNA: Well, I think it reflects poorly on French people that you asked that question.
Above, an excerpt, as I remember it, from my on-stage interview yesterday in Paris, at the launch of the rather wonderful ‘La Nuit Des Idees.’ (The Night of Ideas)
It appears that ‘librairie’ was mistakenly translated as ‘library’ when it actually means ‘bookshop.’
I do not expect a French person to know almost everything about Nigeria. I don’t know almost everything about France. But to be asked to ‘tell French people that you have bookshops in Nigeria because they don’t know’ is to cater to a wilfully retrograde idea – that Africa is so apart, so pathologically ‘different,’ that a non-African cannot make reasonable assumptions about life there.
I am a Nigerian writer whose early education was in Nigeria. It is reasonable to expect that Nigeria has at least one bookshop, since my books are read there.
Had the question been ‘is it difficult to get access to books?’ Or ‘are books affordable?’ It would have been different, worth engaging with, fair.
Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing. But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.
Perhaps French people cannot indeed conceive of Nigeria as a place that might have bookshops. And this, in 2018, in our age of interconnectedness and the Internet, is a shame.
That said, the journalist Caroline Broué was intelligent, thoughtful and well-prepared. When she asked the question, I was taken aback because it was far below the intellectual register of her previous questions.
I now know that she was trying to be ironic, to enlighten by ‘impersonating the ignorant,’ but because she had not exhibited any irony until then, I didn’t recognize it. Hers was a genuine, if flat, attempt at irony and I wish she would not be publicly pilloried.
Speaking of bookshops: Jazzhole, on Awolowo road in Ikoyi, is my favorite in Lagos. And in Nsukka where I grew up, I have fond memories of dusty little bookshops in Ogige market, one owned by a mild-mannered man from my hometown called Joe, and it was there that I once bought a paperback copy of ‘So Long A Letter.’
My Uncle Sunday, my mother’s younger brother, lived in Maidugiri for more than thirty years and owned a bookshop there.
When he recently moved back to the east, after Maidugiri began to feel too unsafe, I was saddened by the loss of his bookshop.
At the event, she also talked about the importance of humanizing immigrants and their stories, writing, speaking her mind, feminism and other issues.
“Feminism is about men and women and beneficial to both. I notice that little boys get more room. Expect boys to cry and don’t expect little girls to be likable,” she said.