I’m looking over the author’s marketing plan and the first prompt is a question about ‘what were your goals in writing the book’. Gives one to think, doesn’t it? Or if you’ve been doing too much editing in the past few weeks, gives you the urge to scream and run out of the room.
But it is a reasonable question, isn’t it? After all, a lot of people would wonder why a woman who looks like a meek hausfrau but is busy already with one career painting and having shows, would be sufficiently obsessed to create a novel about the Nigerian Civil War. (No, I’m not going to talk about the other eight novels in the brains of my computer. Not yet.) Here is what I dredged up about this novel.
I wrote the book to entertain, but that’s never enough for a writer; I also wanted to provoke, to inspire and incite. I lived in Nigeria, grew up there, watched the violence of coups and demonstrations, the strength of its incredibly varied peoples. I was forced to leave, I had to see Nigeria torn apart on the news by war while I lived as an exile in New Hampshire, safe and cold. I went to college and met amazing women, and had and have still their friendship. So in this novel I spin together these themes, one of women in friendship, plunged into war, and how the things they bring with them from the heart of their pasts twist everything that follows in the light of day. I have known powerful women, and I know we limit ourselves. My point is not that we are as good as men, it’s that we are as good as ourselves, and our genders are incidental. So in this book, we have women with and without men, just as in novels of all times we have had men with and without women. A man is never the meaning of any of my womens’ lives. There is my human agenda.
Then there is the political aspect of a white expatriate writing about the most powerful black African nation. I hope I do this humanly. I’ve read obsessively on Nigeria, lived there, smelled and tasted it, and I have loved it. But I know there is no going back and that it does not belong to me. This is one of the themes pervading every page, the push-me pull-you adoration of a superb and vibrant land, and the inevitable parting from it. There are the conflicts of feeling in the presumed superiority to native peoples, struggling with the eventual realization that those feelings are contextual and all the strength of one kind of society cannot be transposed or infused into another. There is no simple way to help, there are only human individual ways. Ways that must be rooted in humility.
I also remember the Nigerian Civil War. The Biafran War. Not many Americans do. It was short, it was messy. I was an evacuee watching TV in New Hampshire, glued to those images of starving babies the newscasters warned ‘might be disturbing’, but my parents felt that they could not edit what I knew even if I was ten years old. I believe they were right, and this novel is my answer.