A Life in Books
The news magazine – Newsweek – has a weekly feature called – A Life in Books – which invites a guest from the literary world (or elsewhere) to say a little bit about five books that shaped their life (and sometimes a little bit more about books). I thought I’d give it a try and so here goes.
Five Books that Shaped My Life –
Silas Marner ~ George Eliot
It was required reading for us in high school/secondary school and before the term was over I had read it so often, mine became so dog-eared and shabby. The book starts with the author’s description of Raveloe where the story is set and I was so smitten by the picturesque description that I read it over and over and over. Shortly, after I read Silas Marner, I took the plunge into writing, for no reason in particular and I have not stopped since.
Just Before Dawn ~ Kole Omotosho
Many of the events described in this mixture of fiction and non-fiction predate my existence, which probably explains why I have read this over and over again at various stages in my life. It describes a Nigeria that I never knew but can still relate to and in some sense, it has further accentuated my deep belief that there is much that can be done in the land of my birth if only we could concentrate our efforts where it needs to be and do away with the frivolities
Les Bouts des Bois de Dieu ~ Ousmane Sembene
This is the book that started my love story with the late Ousmane Sembene. His depiction of the events surrounding a strike by rail workers in colonial French West Africa was an eye-opener for me in many ways and also a revelation of the differences between those countries colonized by the British and those colonized by the French…differences which are still very much visible in today’s world
The Bible: the Book of Psalms ~ The Almighty
A lot of people describe the Bible as the most important book in their lives…for some reason, I have never regarded the Bible as one book but rather as a library of books. My grandmother, mother and aunt always had an resounding chant of Psalm 23 in Yoruba – Oluwa ni olusho agutan mi – The Lord is my shepherd – and ever since I can remember, I have used one of the 150 Psalms in this book as a guiding light in my life and also as a foundation for many of the things that I delve into. The Psalms are and will always be a soothing balm in the magical turbulence of life
The Interpreter of Maladies ~ Jhumpa Lahiri
Although this is not a list of favorite books, I wanted to add that in addition shaping my life, Lahiri’s book of short stories is one of the most engaging pieces of fiction that I have ever read and one of my favorite books of all time. It is dotted with some complex yet colorful characters. When I finished reading it, I was inspired to write short stories and I did and a short-story blog called La Racontrice was born…and who knows what else will come of that…we’ll see
Two certified important books that I have yet to read
You Must Set Forth at Dawn ~ Wole Soyinka
If Ake is anything to go by, this is bound to be an excellent read. Plus I understand that it includes some juicy details of a period I actually lived through, so it is likely that I might be able to relate to some episodes in this book
Jane Eyre ~ Charlotte Brontë
I know the story since I read the abridged version as a young person, but I feel I am missing a lot not having read it in the original language it was written in. And once I am done, I guess, I can light a candle to the shrine in my heart that I have built for the Brontë sisters
What I have read recently
Half of a Yellow Sun ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The events that occured during the Nigerian civil war pre-date my existence but I have always been curious enough about that period to ask that older people in my life about what life was like during that time and have often heard the perspective from the Western part of the country, which one of the characters in the book describes aptly
You know, we didn’t really understand what was happening in Biafra. Life went on and women were wearing the latest lace in Lagos. It was not until I went to London for a conference and read a report about the starvation.
The author does an excellent job in taking us back to a place that many of her readers did not inhabit but can get a sense of life before, during and shortly after the war
The Color Purple ~ Alice Walker
For a long time, any time I had the TV on, and was channel-hopping, I would come across the movie version of the book and I felt an instant void, not having read the book but having heard from uncountable number of sources that it is among many things a must-read. I addressed isdeficiency in my reading life in two days and could not put down this book – a captivating story told in what I was surprised to discover from Page One (because no one ever told me) the most simple language told in its raw form that it leaves nothing out and you are literally walking in the shoes of the character. There’s a speech made by one of the characters in the story which I have often heard and read about and marvelled at how much I could relate to the first few sentences of it, so much so that when I came across it while reading the book, I could almost recite it by heart –
All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles.
I also found it pretty eerie, that the character in the book who made the speech was played by a woman whose real name is her character’s husband name spelt backwards and also (perhaps not by coincidence) the name of the company she runs
And while we are on the subject of books, I thought I’d leave you with a speech (long but worth it) delivered by Chris Abani during the TED conference. Living in the diaspora, I often find myself carrying a flag for everything Nigerian and African and constantly being on the defensive when anything negativev is said about Africa. I often do this in a sub-conscious way, but when I heard Mr Abani speak, I began to ask myself what I really know about the eclectic nature of the African continent that I was born in that makes me think that I can be the ultimate flagbearer, especially since, I have to admit to myself, that it is when I am away from home that I feel Nigerian (if African at all). Back home I am simply a Yoruba girl from Lagos trying to carve for myself a yet-to-be-defined national identity. Mr Abani’s speech, among other things, challenges us to learn the stories of Africa