Saturday, 24 August 2013

Work in progress...

Safely back in England again at the age of sixteen, I finished school and went to university. Then I got a scholarship to do a Master’s in Canada but dropped out after the first semester to become a writer, an ambition I had first nurtured when, at the age of seven, I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in my bedroom overlooking the lagoon and was captivated by the way the words on the page transported me to a magical place that was just as intense as the one I inhabited in everyday life, if not more so. I even entered the cupboard and closed the door behind me. The other side did indeed open up, many years and adventures later, and the world it revealed was certainly magical, although not in the way I could ever have imagined. Later, just before I left for Canada, I read Faulkner’s masterpiece (‘the first purely American novel’), along with Crime and Punishment (‘Has there been any other novelist except for Dostoevsky who could have conceived and written Light in August?’), both of which I picked up in the university bookshop one Friday afternoon. By Monday the die was cast.
But no sooner did I begin writing than memories of Nigeria flooded back. My first publishable book was a collection of short stories centred on my boarding school years, although I quickly abandoned fiction for the essay, a form better suited to whatever talent I thought I might have. When, on the only occasion I turned my attention to England, I discovered that I had nothing to write about except ‘race’, a subject which didn’t interest me no matter how hard I tried to work it up, and which I only persisted with over the entire span of a book because I had a contract to fulfil. Not that I hadn’t encountered racists - or their apologists. Once, when I was at university, two of my closest friends worried that I would insist on following them to watch a newly promoted Swansea and be offended by the banana skins thrown onto the pitch when we had plenty of monkeys pleading for evolution in the bush the Nigerian government was busy not protecting in the interests of our collective heritage but, then, I didn’t like football anyway.
At bottom, I suppose, I never felt estranged from England and it never really occurred to me that it was in anybody’s power to make me feel so. On the contrary, I was very much at home there. This was perhaps because, as a native speaker, English was not strange to me, language being what a professor once called more than just an analogue for a culture but its essential life. In other words, I was English to the core. Not so with Nigeria, which was just as exotic, as virgin and as unknown as it had been to my mother, and made more so by the fact that Nigerians themselves, listening to my accent and observing my features, took me for a foreigner in a way that the English, more accommodating to the notion of multiculturalism as a fall-out of Empire, never did.
The pity of it was that my fate should have condemned me to a country where ordinary, decent values had become so distorted that it was impossible to live a halfway decent life without feeling that you were being continuously pulverised between the fairy tale and the reality; between the dream of what it could be and the sordid facts of what it had ineluctably become. It is hardly surprising that Nigeria should feature amongst the most corrupt countries in the world although too much can be made of this, tying as it does with such other places as Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia, the difference being that Nigeria also happens to be part of a continent which fits neatly into the shared mythology – by Africans as much as by others - of the dark heart forever condemned to poverty, disease and hopelessness.
On the other hand, the stresses and strains of what was essentially an unstable hybrid with a past it couldn’t or wouldn’t use and a present it therefore had problems embracing provided plenty of fodder for one who also happened to share something of its attenuated condition, however obliquely. For all the country’s challenges, it represented, to me, fertile ground, not as fiction – I simply didn’t know enough about the inner lives of those I might have wanted to investigate – but in terms of ideas, which are the proper currency of the essay. What the novelists had taught me was never to lose sight of the individual without whom the ideas themselves become sterile in the way of the mulatto, the half-breed, the coloured on the part of those who subscribe to a reductive notion of human beings: ‘I said all the time that he wasn’t right. Wasn’t a white man. That there was something funny about him. But you can’t tell folks nothing until –’ as one of the characters in the Faulkner novel says of Joe Christmas when he discovers that the stranger in their midst is ‘really’ a ‘nigger’, although this was news to the really niggers themselves: ‘It’s a white man,’ he said, without turning his head, quietly, ‘What you want, whitefolks?
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. I read your book titled In My Father's Country: A Nigerian Journey, and I loved it. Keep it up, Mr. Pearce.

    1. Many thanks for your vote of confidence.

  2. ok ok we get it , u are not really one of us Nigerians. u just another whitey managing with naija. well guess what nobody is holding u back. u can leave and go back to the UK to continue washing dishes or toilets or bums or whatever it was u were washing in the uk. cus we sure as heck know u were not living in a castle or anything of that sort back in england. neither were u being served. u probably were living in some run down council flat surrounded by hoods,subsisting on welfare.

    what naija needs is people who will take ownership of the countrys problems and actively work hard to solve them. wheter they be business, infrastructural , social or political. not people always looking to point out whats missing.

    if u see somethign missing , replace it.

    if u see something needs fixing , get the skills and fix it.

    like the dangotes fasholas otedolas and numerous others are doing.

    stop whining about how exotic lagos . exotic really ??? coming from someone who pretty much grew up in Nigeria. whoa ok.

    1. Wow, quite a mouthful. Sorry you feel this way although I'm hard-pressed to see Otedola as a role-model. Thanks for the contribution,

  3. "u probably were living in some run down council flat surrounded by hoods,subsisting on welfare."

    Hahahahahahahahaha. sooo right. exactly every naija's life. including the commenter.

    But, @Adewale Maja-Pearce, surely England is not such a wonderful place?

  4. I was going to say earlier, neither a council flat nor a castle through no fault of my own. No, I don't think England is such a wonderful place, as you put it, and I wouldn't be living in Nigeria if I thought so, but praise where praise is due. Enough said?

  5. You are great as an essayist but could you not reconsider the longer narrative, say in the vicinity of fictional realism? The reason being that our people hardly understand that an essayist is a cryptic philosopher that hits the game duely.

  6. Thanks for the flattery. Will consider what you say.