This interview with Araceli Aipoh came out today in National Mirror. I hope her next novel will take us back 25 years to her high school days with Batch '81
I still find it difficult believing a foreigner wrote a book that is so Nigerian. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel so Nigerian.
The vigour I noticed with which you started the book, weakened in the middle and picked up again before the book ended. Is it that you were unsure of the plot and almost got stuck?
There was never a time when I was unsure of the plot. Before I sat down to write, I already knew what was going to happen to all the characters from the beginning to the end. Besides, it’s not just possible to have at least one character get killed in every chapter. You will end up with an unrealistic story.
Why did you create Kate to be that kind of desperate woman who unfortunately lost it all?
I didn’t exactly create Kate. She exists in our midst, not just in Nigeria but in any place where you see women. All I did was to tell her story.
Don’t you think the story of Kate would have been more interesting if all ended well for her considering her hard background? It could have sent a kind of message across to the Kates in the society, that they can still have it right and good?
Yes, but I think it also sends a warning, though I didn’t have this intention when I was writing it, that if a woman does not have control of herself, she will end up like Kate. I don’t think there’s any point in killing yourself over a man. You must understand all the time that a man either loves you or he doesn’t, so you just have to either love him or leave him in return. Unfortunately, Kate didn’t know that. Maybe because nobody taught her. She never knew the love of a mother or a sister or even a friend. That’s the tragedy of her life.
Jide is every woman’s dream man, but don’t you think when it comes to his character, that you cheated your readers, considering the fact that he got away with his actions?
I don’t think Jide got away with his actions. When Victoria found out what he had done, she made her own decisions. And having an affair with his sister-in-law could be a stigma that would follow him for the rest of his life.
Elizabeth ’s guilt was like an open book to the reader because we saw her mind. The reader never entered the mind of Jide. He was among the lead characters whose mind was never written.
Yes, you are right. There was only a few scenes devoted to him. Not knowing all the answers – What was he thinking, for instance? – is very much a part of life. If you are a novelist trying to portray life as it is, you have to be realistic, you have to leave some questions unanswered once in a while. I see Jide as an enigmatic person, so an enigmatic person cannot be defined. You never know what they are thinking.
Now, let’s talk about the unknown Croker daughter. You ended the book with only Laura knowing the secret, but do people really keep that kind of secret considering coming in contact everyday with people that should know the truth? The normal scenario would be for her to disappear from their midst because of the burden.
Laura is a big surprise for me, too. She is not a major character in the book, but it seems almost every reader (judging from the question they ask me) becomes curious about her. The circumstances surrounding her birth are really mysterious because not even her father knew about it. Only the mom knew and she is dead. So who else would have known?
What were the challenges you faced in writing that book?
The usual challenges or questions that would face any aspiring novelist, I suppose: Can the story stand on its own? Have I covered all the loopholes? Can readers relate with the story? Can I sustain the plot…things like that. And another challenge was that English is not my native tongue. So I spent a lot of time agonizing over grammar, proper English usage, punctuation and all that. I still face the problem of language.
Who among your well crafted characters is your favourite?
You can’t have a favourite character if each of them is significant to the plot. Aside from Laura and her mother, all the rest are major characters in the book, in the sense that if you took one of them away, the plot would probably fall apart, or it would turn out in a different way. I didn’t just pick a character and planted him or her in the book. Even the driver may look insignificant, but his role is very crucial. Even the gravedigger. The choices that each of these people made – there are nine of them, excluding Laura and her mother – affected, in one way or the other, the lives of the rest of the cast, even if they didn’t meet face to face, or even after so many years. So to answer that question, Who is my favorite, then they are all my favourites. It’s easy to write the intertwining story of two people – any novelist can do that – but when you are talking of five or six characters, it’s a different thing altogether.
If you were to change something in the book, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing. There’s at least one person who has requested me to resurrect Elizabeth. But I can’t do that. She’s dead.
You are very fortunate that your very first book was well received considering that people don’t read. How does that make you feel?
I owe it to everyone who turned the pages. Definitely I feel honoured. When someone reads your book until the last page and then asks you when is the next one coming, as a writer, you feel great, but at the same time, it’s a humbling experience.
You’ve been here long enough to know the art industry. Do you think there’s hope for Nigerian literature?
Yes, absolutely. But I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that.
What book are you presently working on? When do we expect it?
I’m currently working on a children’s book. Hopefully it will be out by the middle of next year.
How can art associations help to move art and artists forward?
Everyone should understand the mechanics of promotion. You need to do a national campaign, and yet, you have to start somewhere, and I guess you could always start where you are, work with the nearest people near you, make do with the limited resources that you have.