Recently I’ve gotten some feedback on my book from folks who did not particularly enjoy it. That’s part of the process of writing, of course, and I accept these comments with all the good cheer I can manage. After all, we all enjoy different things and I appreciate an honest review. But I’ve heard a few times now that writing about Nigeria was part of the problem. It has been suggested to me that it just isn’t a place that particularly interests many readers from the United States. So I’ve had to consider, after the fact, why in the world I picked such a “difficult” location for my first book. I mean, wouldn’t Paris or London have been better?
Much of x0 probably takes place in Nigeria simply because I began to write a tale of two very different women helping each other about the same time that I started a new job exploring for oil in the Niger Delta. Mind you, I do my exploring at a computer in Houston, twisting and turning 3-D images on a screen just like Lola does in the story. The fair-sized oil company that I work for bears little resemblance to Lola’s tiny focused employer, and as I began writing I promised myself that I would steadfastly resist the temptation to let any thing about my actual place of employment creep into the fictional world I was creating. Certainly I owed my employer that discretion.
In the end though, I made one exception. One day I asked my office mate, a Nigerian geologist, to describe to me how his tribe, the Igbo, were unique. He responded by telling me a legend about Igbo slaves coming to America. It startled me at first that he would even speak of such a thing, but in the end I was touched by both the moving story he told, and by the powerful way in that he told it. I tried to capture each of those when I retold this scene in my book.
Nigeria, it turns out, has a plethora of rich stories to tell, and as an outsider I am poorly equipped to speak of even the few that I know. Yet as I kept writing I filled myself with all the history, culture and geography I could find on the internet. Somewhere along the way I became a fan of Nana Asma’u, a proponent of education for her fellow Muslim women and a poet and scholar herself. She lived in northern Nigeria in the early 1800’s.
Why Nigeria? Why anywhere. Every spot on this earth is teeming with tales of heroes and feats that will never make it to our ears. Why listen to these tales? Why tell them again? When young Pakistani Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban a few weeks ago for advocating education for girls, I thought of Malala’s noble predecessor of 200 years ago, and I had a perspective that I would once have totally lacked.
Why Nigeria? Because when I started writing this book, there probably wasn’t a place on earth that I knew less about. That’s not true anymore. I get that the fascinating details of a far off land don’t appeal to everyone, but they do to me. I had to look hard to find a location for my second book that was even less known to me. I found it. And I hope that some of you will also enjoy reading about the remote Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.