Sunday, August 06, 2006

Diana Evans @ Jazzhole

I attended Diana Evans' reading at Jazzhole yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was different from the other readings I've been to, because instead of reading several excerpts from the book, Diana read one long chunk. It was great for me, especially having read the book already. Afterwards there was a Q&A session, which was shaping up to be quite interesting. Then I was called outside to move my car because someone needed to leave (one of the downsides about Lagos is the lack of parking space). After I returned to the store, 1 or 2 more questions were taken and then we had the opportunity to buy the books and get them signed.

I took my copy of 26a with me and Diana signed it. She looks petite in magazines, but appears even more so in real life. She had some great shoes on, which I spotted from my vantage position up close to the 'reading area.' I also adored her hair, which was a huge, gold-hued afro.

Jazzhole is a great setting for any reading, because (well, aside from being a bookshop) it is so cosy and intimate. During readings or in-store performances, chairs are closely-set next to each other and the lights usually dimmed. I love it! After any event, guests of-course can browse their vast book and music collection and many usually purchase something.

I have to say that it's a great thing that Cassava Republic is doing by bringing quality literature to Nigerian readers. Copies of 26a were being sold yesterday for N1,000 apiece. Not bad! CR also have a number of books coming out in the next year. I'm looking forward to reading Teju Cole's novel, based on his trip home last December and his writings, which he published on his blog. This is an example of blogs being a launch-pad to other forms of media and arts i.e. novels, films, plays. So a blog is not just a blog anymore, people!

It was an opportunity to meet the lovely Bibi of CR and Jeremy Weate of naijablog. It's great to meet people who you've interacted with online. It felt like I knew them already. Here's to meeting more online peeps soon.


ayoke said...

Jeremy asked if I saw you. I'm sure you had left 'cos I got there much later as I was at MUSON for the Soyinka Prize.

And yes... she does look petite! 'Didn't notice the shoes, though...:)

Everchange said...

sounds like it was a blast. i've never been to the jazzhole...1000 naira?? now that's impressive.

Ore said...

Ayoke, you were there? Well, I guess I must have left then. Co-incidentally, I ended up leaving because my car was blocking someone elses' and he was going to MUSON too. I figured there wasn't much point moving my car and coming back in, esp since the event was over by that point.

I'd have liked to have met you. Sometime in the future, I guess. Lagos is filled with meeting opportunities.

Everchange, yes it was a lot of fun!!! And I applaud CR and Diana Evans for helping make quality books more affordable.

Orikinla Osinachi. said...

Quite an event.
I have already noticed Diana Evans and I have to read her 26a.

Jazzhole rocks and I thank God for Olakunle Tejuoso who is doing so much to promote our literary culture.

God bless.

TRAE said...

publishing my blog into a that would really be nice. but with the flexible nature of blog posts and the all the url linking i wonder how the book would come out. And yeah a company that publishes blogs into books was advertised on blogger buzz months back...i'm an ITK, yes i know. :)

adefunke said...

I am currently reading 26A and I think its a good book. Tell me is she describing her head when she elaborates on Georgia and Bessi's head and hair?

i said...

did anyone take pictures?

Ore said...

Jeremy has some pics up on his blog:

I can't remember how she described Bessie and Georgia's hair and I'm too lazy to go and look it up. It might be the same. You can look at the pics of Diana on Jeremy's blog.

Kemi Ogunleye said...

I am currently reading 26a (I'm about halfway through now) and I must say, it's been quite a chore trying to get through this book. What is the book really about???? The prose & the characters both feel so contrived to me that I am not able to connect on any level. Diana Evans has not been able to get me to care, on any level, about any of her characters. It seems to me that she expended so much effort in trying to make her language deep and flowery that she forgot to develop her story. The novel just seems to move from one episode to the next without any point or purpose. And to my mind, Evans herself does not really know her own characters. None of them sound or act mildly convincing. For instance, the family's move to Lagos seemed very unnecessary to me; I kept wondering, "why are they in Nigeria again?" That entire digression was just that, a digression - it added absolutely no substance to the story. Perhaps it just gave her an opportunity to talk about African sunsets & rainbows and such like. Also, how is it that the author takes her characters all the way to Nigeria yet she cannot find a single person in that country with a Nigerian name? Who in Nigeria is called Sedrick or Troy????? And how come the people dont sound anything like Nigerians??? The grandfather, the grandmother, the gateman, the cook, even Ida herself... None of them sounds authentic - they all sound like what a foreigner thinks Nigerians should sound like. None of it rings true and that's my main problem with this book - it seems so pretentious. It seems to me that the author tried too hard to create A Novel Of Great Importance and in doing so, she literally lost the plot.
It is true that 26a is an award-winning book which continues to receive critical acclaim from various quarters so maybe I'm just not deep enough to appreciate the intricate, mystical layers of such a work. If this is the case, then forgive my ignorant diatribe. However I think that if one looks a bit closer, one might discover that the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes.

Everchange said...

I actually agree with you. I'm halfway through the book and I doubt that I will finish it. I think the writing is goód, i just can't connect with the characters, even though I'm curious to hear the rest of the story. Picked up on the "Troy" and "Sedrick" thing as well. It really is odd because all she had to do was find a nigerian and ask them about Nigeria. Her research is very very poor.

Ore said...

I agree with a lot of your points, Kemi. I didn't like the part of the book set in Nigeria. The dialogue, for one, did not sound Nigerian at all. Poor research definitely reduces reading enjoyment.

I mostly enjoyed reading about the relationship between Georgia and Bessie. Reading about Georgia's worsening depression was very intriguing.

With many books, I find that I enjoy certain aspects more than others. I take what I can and leave the rest. And when this isn't possible, well, I guess I just have to move on to something else.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed 26a. I love the use of language.
To kemi who thinks that Nigeria don't speak like that or are not called Sedrick or Troy, you should remember that Nigeria is such a diverself, complex and rich society. There are several ways of being Nigerian. By the way, I am Nigerian and name is Troy, my brother is called Baldwin and my sister Alice. Our parents named us after their favourite characters in literature. So perhaps Ms Evans is referring to Nigerians like us - with odd and very unNigeria names.


Everchange said...

nice try. I strongly doubt that those names were chosen for the reason you mention. The names (remember this is 1970s Nigeria, and we're talking about a Driver and a Gateman, not a middleclass offspring of book-lovers) are not the only odd thing about this book. There's also the speech patterns of the mother, the grandfather in the village, and basically anyone who is Nigerian sounds more carribean than west african.

It's great that you like the book. I think like Ore said, one can leave the "bad"parts and take the "good." Still you've got to at least concede that the author failed to make at least one of her themes convincing - living in Nigeria. If a nigerian depicted life in the UK (and people from the UK) as unconvincly as this book does, I doubt that the Brits would laud it as an impressive work, perhaps even suggest that the imaginative Nigerian (who has visited the UK only once or twice) is trying to present different ways of being British.

I'm not saying she can't (or shouldn't) write about Nigeria. I just think that it would have been so easy for her to find the info to make the story convincing.

Kemi Ogunleye said...

To Troy - No offence, but you have to admit that your name is far from typical. I'm sure if one searched the UK hard enough, one would find a few white people with names like Soyinka or Achebe. Does that mean that a Nigerian can now write a novel which features apparently typical British characters with such foreign-sounding names? Wouldn't I at least have to make some sort of attempt to explain why these otherwise run-of-the-mill WASPy British folks have such "exotic" names? Without a background explanation, the disconnect would be glaring. And remember that she did this with ALL her Nigerian characters. They all had foreign names and not even the more common foreign names like Paul or Mary. Which leads me back to my original question: how do you go all the way to Nigeria and not find a single character with a Nigerian name?

But it wasnt just about the names, it was the speech, the dialogue, the thought patterns, everything. None of the Nigerian characters sounded remotely authentic. And that was the fundamental problem I had with this book - it wasn't convincing. I wasnt convinced that Diana Evans knew any of her characters intimately. And for that reason, she couldnt convince me to want to know them either.

Anonymous said...

Kemi I think you should stick with John Grisham or something a little more suitable. Its clear 26a was above your head. The idea that there is such a thing as Nigeria 'authenticity' is crass and asinine: how can a society of 250+ languages and huge class divides (between urban and rural, returnee ahd home-grown) have such? 26a provides an insight into mixed-race Nigerian/British experience, both in the UK and in Nigeria. But perhaps you think mixed-race Nigerians aren't fully Nigerian or entitled to the claim of being 'authentically' so?

Everchange said...
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