Interviewer asks Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'Are there bookshops in Nigeria?'

Half of a Yellow Sun novelist tells French journalist that the question caters to a ‘wilfully retrograde idea’ of African difference

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has hit out at a “deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa” after she was asked by a French interviewer if there were bookshops in Nigeria.

The prize-winning Nigerian novelist was invited by France’s foreign ministry to appear as guest of honour at the Institut Francais’s cultural event La Nuit des Idées. Interviewed by the French journalist Caroline Broué, Adichie was asked if there were bookshops in Nigeria.

“When you talk about Nigeria in France, unfortunately there is not much said about Nigeria, but when people talk about Nigeria it’s about Boko Haram, it’s about violence, it’s about security,” said Broué. “I should like you to tell us something about Nigeria which is different, talk about it differently, and that is why I’m saying are there bookshops? Of course I imagine there are.”

#NightOfIdeas : Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie launches the #NuitDesIdees at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris

— France Diplomacy🇫🇷 (@francediplo_EN) January 25, 2018

In a video of the event, Adichie is shown reacting calmly to the question. “You know I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you’ve had to ask me that question. I really do. Because I think, surely it’s 2018. I mean, come on. My books are read in Nigeria. They’re studied in schools, not just in Nigeria but across Africa and it means a lot to me,” says the author. “Because obviously I’m very grateful to be read everywhere in the world but there’s something about being read by the people about whom you write.”

Adichie later took to Facebook to expand further on the incident. “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,” she wrote.

“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.”

Adichie’s popular 2009 TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, saw the novelist speak about the dangers of reducing a country or a people to a single narrative. “If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa was from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and Aids, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner,” she said in the talk.

Adichie wrote on Facebook that she hoped the French journalist “would not be publicly pilloried” for her question. The author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun said she had subsequently learned that Broué “was trying to be ironic, to enlighten by ‘impersonating the ignorant’, but because she had not exhibited any irony until then, I didn’t recognise it”.

She added that her favourite bookshop in Lagos was Jazzhole, found on Awolowo Road in Ikoyi.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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