Sunday, February 21, 2010

Authors I like: Helen Oyeyemi

This is something I plan to do sporadically, when the mood strikes me or I am particularly impressed. Today's author is Helen Oyeyemi. That link is to her wikipedia page (thanks, Wikipedia!).

She is younger than me by one year, so I'm terribly jealous of her success, but I must admit she deserves it. Woman is a phenomenal writer. I've only read The Icarus Girl, which she wrote when she was 19 years old, but I'm partway into The Opposite House, and it promises to be wonderful.

The Icarus Girl is about an 8-year-old girl named Jessamy. To say she's caught between two worlds would be too simple, and I don't want to give out spoilers- let's just say that she has a white, British father, and a Nigerian mother. She is very smart, sensitive and imaginative, and suffers from the affliction that often comes with intelligence that comes on hard and fast and early- she is both lonely and a loner, and sometimes her brain and her emotional maturity are at odds. She is also quite perceptive, so catches often those little lies that adults tell children as a matter of course.

In Nigeria, Jess meets a ragged little girl named Titiola, and a lot of what happens next centers around just exactly how Titiola (nee Tilly-Tilly) fits into Jess' life, and what exactly she is.

One thing that is wonderful is the solid realness of Nigerian spirituality in this book. Tiresomely, a lot of books that deal with a conflict of cultures between the scientific and modern, and the older and more mysterious, have the latter coming out as a solid loser- superstitious and foolish. Not so with the Icarus Girl.

I would compare it to another book for that aspect, but I think that, as Chimamanda Achidie said very succinctly in her 19 minute speech for TED (you can find it here),

"I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."- Chimamanda Achidie, The Danger of a Single Story

Transcript for this is here, courtesy of Restructure!

In any case, both Jess and Ms. Oyeyemi get to tell their own story, divorced from any other stories that have been told before.

Read this book!

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