This morning I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on BBC Radio 4’s Cultural Exchange programme (in which creative minds choose their favourite cultural work) and learnt about Ben Ewonwu, the Nigerian artist ( 1917 – 1994). Adichie spoke about Ewonwu’s painting Tutu, of a Yoruba princess. The original painting has been missing for years, but when Adichie was growing up in Nnusuka, in South-east Nigeria, a print of the work was in practically every middle-class Nigerian household. It is still on the wall of her parents’ home.
THINGS FALL APART
By Chinua Achebe
(Anchor Books, 209 pages)
THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.
Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.
Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.
My partner, Don, is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.
It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.
The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.
When I move to Lagos, Nigeria I will be leaving behind over a thousand books. I hope to ship them all to me one day, but until then I have my Kindle, which contains a large number of my favourite titles. I also intend to take about twenty ‘real’ books with me and trying to choose just twenty is proving difficult (you don’t say!).
(For practical purposes, I shall take books that aren’t on my Kindle.)
I have decided on four so far: Three are Elizabeth Goudge comfort reads: Towers in the Mist; City of Bells; and The Dean’s Watch. And the fourth is Gratitude, a small and beautiful, posthumously-published collection of essays by Oliver Sacks.
I am trying to decide if I should take The Complete Uncle, the crowd-funded collection of J.P. Martin’s original six Uncle books. It’s a large, handbound volume that weighs a tiny bit over 1kg. Perhaps I’ll put it in my hand luggage or my ‘dainty’ lady’s handbag.
Ugh, I have so many clothes. I have clothes that I bought in 1990. WTF.
I have clothes that I have not worn in years and years. I have clothes that I will never be able to get into again. I have clothes that I’d forgotten I ever owned.
Sorting through my closet, I’m finding it so hard to get rid of the stuff I’m unearthing. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I a hoarder? Actually, I know I am. Not extreme, but I definitely am a bit of a pack rat. Look at all the things I have – stuff that are encased in layers of dust because I have not used it for years and years, because they are useless, or at least not relevant to my life.
I’ve had to be ruthless and I know it’s the right thing to be because once the outfit or the magazine or toy or whatever is in the bin liner, I cease to want it. I must make it a point not to do the same in Lagos. We have a huge house so it would be so easy for the junk to pile up, especially as I am a sucker for baubles.
I need at least one of these letterpress trays to display my treasures, none of which I am discarding because each piece means something to me. I have wanted one of these tray since I saw one used for this purpose in England. You can get them on eBay still. Another cool way to display knickknacks is in one of these tables with compartmentalised tops.
Ikea used to have one in their coffee table range, not sure if they still do, but I don’t think there’s a store in Lagos anyway. However, perhaps I can commission one from a local carpenter, and even something that looks like a letterpress tray. What fun.
As for my clothes, although I have already weeded out many items, I will have to discard even more. I am going to try to maintain a minimalist wardrobe, try being the operative word. Actually, I think it’s doable because I’ve always stuck to the same twenty or so items in my closet despite having dozens more. Apart from anything else, I don’t want to spend all of my 30kg luggage allowance on clothes. Hmm … maybe I should pack as if I’m going on a fortnight’s vacation ….
I’ve actually been reading fashion blogs and started a board on Pinterest for capsule wardrobes of various kinds. Who knows I may write my own capsule wardrobe guide one of these days 😉
Minus the winterwear of course!
I’ve never liked the practice of a woman changing her title and surname when she marries.
A man is a mister whether or not he’s married and so a woman should not need to go from Miss to Mrs. I use Ms. And I don’t see why a woman’s marital status is anyone’s business. Why does she need to announce to the world that she’s married?Read More »