By Ian MacAllen on Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 at 5:22 pm
A common scam in Nigeria includes attempting to sell a home that does not in fact belong to the person selling it, E.C. Osondu explains. That scam served as inspiration for the first draft of his latest novel This House is Not For Sale. Osondu read from the book at Powerhouse Arena. In an early draft, someone kept trying to sell the house, but what Osondu really wanted to discover was the people inside the house and their history.
The novel is really a sixteen separate parts with a grandfather sitting as patriarch. From here, the remaining characters emanate, each receiving closer inspection in their own narratives. The house and the patriarch serve to link them all together.
Osondu says that the grandfather is really more an embodiment of many people, both altruistic and cruel at the same time. “We are charitable because we want people to say we are charitable,” he says, to explain the character.
There is no specific moral message hidden in the novel. “I just wanted to tell the stories,” Osondu says, although he adds that he finds it disquieting the disconnection between morality and religion in Nigeria. He especially sees it as growing in amorality even as it grows in religious fervence.
“I’m supersitutious,” Osondu says relating an anecdote about the physicist Niels Bohr. The scientist kept a horseshoe over his door, a sign of luck. Ask whether he believed in superstitions, Bohr replied that he didn’t, but he heard that it worked whether a person believed or not.
“[Superstition] is a way of trying to make sense of society,” Osondu says. One supersitution that he plays on in his novel is the Nigerian myth that women can either be wealthy or they can have children. One of his characters, a young girl who is slower than others, ends up marrying a woman. Osondu explains that in Nigerian society, some older women can essentially be viewed as men in society–and thus be allowed to take a young, fertile bride to produce children.
If it seems surprising that Nigeria is accepting of two women marrying despite a growing interest in religion, it is because, Osondu explains, of a traditional live and let live attitude. The very idea of sodomy was simply invented by the British. “Homophobia is a western phrase,” he says, although he clarifies that by saying, “Of course there is anxiety about difference and otherness.”
For Osondu, he doesn’t see himself necessary as choosing to seek out a particular point of view. “I have to wait for the characters to come to me,” Osondu says, adding “I didn’t think I wanted to talk about homosexuality. I wanted to write about this character.”
Osondu feels he has a place in two great literary communities. He is both part of the Nigerian literary tradition and the American MFA community. But when it comes to This House is Not For Sale, he says: “this particular book I wrote for myself.”
E.C. Osondu and Nana-Ama Kyerematen
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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