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“I now know that she was trying to be ironic” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on French Journalist who asked if there are Bookshops in Nigeria

BellaNaija.com

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Websites and blogs and social media had gone agog last week after writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had clapped back at a French journalist who asked if there are bookshops in Nigeria.

Adichie had been interviewed at the annual La Nuit Des Idees (The Night of Ideas) in France, and her interviewer, Caroline Broué, had asked her if there are bookshops in Nigeria.

After the audience had gasped at the question, Broué had remained resolute, saying what French people hear about Nigeria is Boko Haram, and so her question was a legitimate one.

Adichie had answered, “Well, I think it reflects poorly on French people that you asked that question,” eliciting an applause from the audience.

Adichie had on her Facebook addressed the issue, saying the journalist was trying to be ironic. She wrote:

On Bookshops – Not Libraries – in Nigeria.

French Journalist: Are your books read in Nigeria?

CNA: Yes.

French Journalist: Are there bookshops in Nigeria?

CNA: What?

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.

-CNA

Photo Credit: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

15 Comments

  1. Bridget

    February 1, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    Useless journalist. Jeloxing somebodi. The journalist must be a frustrated author. We know such by their actions. Chiamanda just reply her with a fantastic novel. Don’t go beneath urself by replying such.

    • Author Unknown

      February 2, 2018 at 5:39 am

      Did you not read that it was an attempt at sarcasm by the French journalist, which Chimamanda’s uptightness possibly did not allow her to see? It could also be that an attempt to be ironic when there’s a cultural barrier is not a good idea.

    • abby

      February 2, 2018 at 10:09 am

      @ Bridget, I bet you didn’t even read. Shame

  2. C.B

    February 1, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    You just gotta love Chimamanda Adichie. She is on point.

  3. Dolly

    February 1, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    But no we are just a sensitive bunch, we need to tolerate more ignorance and blatant yet veiled racism as a nation, even in 2018 according to some BN commentators thanks but no.

  4. Red

    February 2, 2018 at 1:57 am

    Chimamanda oh how I love you. Her narration just drew me into a world of imagination; of the dusty bookshop in Nsukka, Maiduguiri 30years ago. In under a minute, I was taken back in time. You have a gift CNA. Well Done!

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      February 2, 2018 at 11:20 pm

      Special mention to the unofficial bookshops and novel traders who used to set up stalls under the flyover around the Isaac Boro Park in Port Harcourt.??

      There were always a special few in the bunch who had the hook up on great authors and provided some pretty decent stock for my library.?

  5. The real dee

    February 2, 2018 at 4:42 am

    But I think the journalist asked that question because of Chimamanda’s previous answer. The journalist asked if her books were read in Nigeria and she said ‘They do, shockingly’. Now, the next question came and when she said she thinks it reflects poorly, the journalist said, she asked because of her previous answer, and because in France people only hear about BH.

    Let’s analyze this objectively, that word shockingly connotes that Nigerians don’t read or it’s a surprise that they’ll read her books. So, if it is such a shock that her books are read, what did you expect the journalist to say after hearing that? You already set the tone for a negative perspective.

    • Better days are here

      February 2, 2018 at 10:48 am

      hmm interesting take. I never thought of it that way

    • Folu

      February 2, 2018 at 11:11 am

      No. That wasn’t the case. The ‘shockingly’ response was a sarcastic response to an obviously silly question – apparently being the first of many. The lady should have gotten the cue and gone another route but she was hell bent on ridiculing CNA. Unfortunately, it backfired.

  6. James

    February 2, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    There really aren’t that many bookshops in Nigeria. and the ones you see aren’t note worthy. How many of you here can remember the last time you visited a bookshop in any Nigerian city? The French journalist wasn’t really off the mark by asking that question. Ms Adichie could have used a bit of humour to respond to the question instead of going scorched earth. She needs to loosen up abeg.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      February 2, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      Never condone ignorance in any form. “Loosening up” is what we’ve been doing for decades and that kind of placating serves no benefit to either side.

      And book shops are closing everywhere, around the world, probably due to Amazon’s virtual grip on that particular market but the fact that most of today’s society have markedly reduced their visits to same doesn’t mean that those shops have stopped existing. Whether in Nigeria or any where else.

  7. Kk

    February 4, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I for one know the jounalist was being French as usual – insensitive, selfish and entitled .

    I live in France and I can tell you french people are low ( they are just a butterfly who think of themselves as a bird).
    Arrogant and opinionated yet extremely myopic.

    They are in a world of their own and which is still about 20years behind. But luckily for them, it is a white country this the world sees them as developed. ( if it were a black nation, their backwardness would have been quickly recognized)

  8. Beegal

    February 5, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    Please what part of Nigeria do you stay because there are many book shops in Lagos. Laterna ventures had to get another building next to it as they were getting more popular. Many super stores have a book section. Lets not talk about the market book stalls or even the mobile book stores, aka hawkers, on the street of Lagos,

  9. michelle vicky

    May 17, 2018 at 11:05 am

    my husband and I did ttc spell once, I’m pregnant! It’s so easy and I would highly recommend others try this. We are thrilled! on facebook: o d u d u w a a j a k a y e

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