« ‘Would you say that being caught between traditional and Western cultures causes the domestic problems you’ve observed ?’
‘I’m not sure. Our cultures evolve. They change, you know, and you can hardly call the Western cultures we’ve adopted modern. I mean, sitting at home and playing wife would be old-fashioned to some women in Nigerian villages. If you ask them what they look for in a husband, they will give you a list of functions. If ask an educated woman in Lagos, she might give you a list of attributes. You can walk away from a husband who doesn’t fulflill his functions. You’re expected to accept attributes when you’re married, aren’t you ?’ »
In today’s posh side of Lagos, Remi, a card shop owner, meets Frances at a party. It is an ordinary day, at an ordinary mundane event- maybe too ordinary not to be suspect. Could she be the CIA agent that Tunde, Remi’s husband, suspects her of being, an agent trying to collect information about the social and political situation in Nigeria ?
In the highlife atmosphere of the sophisticated places of the Nigerian metropolis, the political turmoil and ghosts of Biafra War still haunt people’s spirits- such is the background of this unexpected encounter which, in a slow and deeply insightful way, takes out the several aspects from in Remi’s own life, her childhood, her family, her deep connection to her native country.
After A Bit of Difference and News From Home, Sefi Atta’s refined narrative highlights how relations between people from different cultures can make us question our own past, life experience or principles. The multi-layered discussions between the protagonists, embedded in the main story, underline the complex approach to one’s own culture and country that is only made possible through a foreign perspective.
The Nigeria depicted in Sefi Atta’s novel is not just conflicted, fragile or immensely diverse. It is also an image of anyone’s country that, just like individuals, has its own skeletons in the cupboard as well as its own moments of grace. What Remi is faced with, finally, is, apart from all the consequences of interculturality, a new view of her own country and the political turmoil it faces, a view of her place within her own community and family because, for Remi, no man, or woman, is an island.
The Bead Collector by Sefi Atta
978- 1623719852 / Interlink Books (to be released in 2019)
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in African Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is the author of a collection of short stories and a translator of books from French to Romanian. She is trilingual in Romanian, French and English, and teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.