Tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up.
It was a very privileged upbringing in the sense of growing up with a mother whose protective love and unquestioning belief in me gave me a strong sense of self and a confident “I can” rather than the terrorising “I cannot” which so many girls are schooled into. This early self-belief no doubt ensured that I came out of an English boarding school relatively unscathed. I grew up with a fiercely intelligent, industrious, and unlettered woman who equated education, financial astuteness, and sartorial elegance with freedom and brilliance! There was no drama of a gifted or damaged child; it was a very comforting childhood on Lagos Island.
Life was lived on the street and from our balcony with Yoruba Fuji, Juju and American soul music, the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer and the evangelists church bells knifing the air, all fighting for our souls, and all winning, because, in that Yoruba accommodative world all have their place. It was a childhood peopled by women of courage and self-possession, errant men, incessant noise, theatre, much laughter and without contamination. I love and appreciate this world and grounding, even as I craved solitude. It is the nucleus by which my identity, especially as a questioning being derives its meaning and purpose.
Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
There were no oak floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our house. In their place, were hundreds of LPs of different genres of Yoruba music, played on the Grundig Stereogram. These records were probably my first introduction to text without writing. Music was the first thing that held my being in its fold and made me conscious of the evolving social and political landscape of Nigeria in the early 1980s. It was also the first art form that introduced me to the transformative power of storytelling to stir the emotion. So, my parents were not great readers of books, but they came to reading through music, so did I.Continue reading Interview | Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava Republic Press | Indie Publisher of the Week
Our April top 10 indie reads take in Albania, Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with the Best of British crime, poetry, and experimentalism.
Negative Space by Lulketa Lleshanaku trs. Ani Gjika (Bloodaxe Books) buy here Winner of an English PEN Award
“At night the voice of the river is totalitarian
like his alcoholic father’s breath
that blows against his neck after a haircut.
And he doesn’t dare look back at what he did.
His vision doubles, two pasts,
two version of the truth,
two women to fall in love with,
two lives to escape.
But which of them is real? Which an illusion?”
“As far as Jamal could tell, only two things were wrong: a dirty yellow vapour was streaming from the canister and everyone in the compound was dead. The smoke that made Jamal cough and choke in his hut was partly from the contents of the canister and partly from Auntie Sheema, who had fallen onto the cooking fire.” [page5]
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a terrorist!
Jamal lives in West Africa. His hut is set apart, away from the family compound, because of something that makes him twitch, something that may or may not be in his head, which may be evidence of black magic. “After his mum died and his grandfather left, taking all the palm wine from his uncle’s store, everyone told Jamal that he was unlucky.” The fact that he is “marked by spirits” is what saves the boy when terrorists attack the village, since he is overlooked.Continue reading Review | The Ghosts & Jamal, Bridget Blankley | Book of the Week
Our eclectic November top ten reads rejoice in strong women and have a radical, cosmopolitan flavour. We continue our celebration of 15 years of the Childrens’ Bookshow, highlighting two more books featured in this year’s tour. Happy reading! Georgia @bookblast
Rasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (Pushkin Press) buy here Translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson
“A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips. They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning? I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him . . .” Teffi’s portrait of Rasputin, and her description of his unwanted advances, is a disturbing reminder of how sex-pests using positions of power to get their dirty way are not a new phenomenon. All of the women saying #MeToo on Twitter are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaya – who wrote under the pseudonym Teffi – was born in 1872 into a family prominent in Saint Petersburg society. An essayist, poet and playwright, she became so popular that there were Teffi sweets and a Teffi perfume. She supported socialism and the 1905 revolution, and worked for the first Bolshevik paper, New Life, which was later shut down by the Leninist authorities. She left Russia in 1919 and settled in France, where she died in 1952. Her engaging, witty and empathic writing belies a bleak undertow of loss and nostalgia for lost worlds as she writes about life before the revolution, fellow writers, emigration, and life in Paris.
Oriana Fallaci by Cristina de Stefano (Other Press) buy here Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss