Chimamanda’s Response to if there are Bookshops in Nigeria

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the star guest at a global ideas event hosted by the French government called “La Nuit Des Idees” (A Night of Ideas), where she was asked if Nigeria had bookshops.

The audience gasped and the visibly embarrassed journalist tried to back up, explaining that “not much is said about Nigeria in France.”

“We speak very little about Nigeria in France, certainly not enough, and when we do it’s about Boko Haram and the problems of violence and security,” the interviewer said. “I would like to take advantage of your presence for us to talk about other things and things that we don’t know about your country.”

Her response:

“I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question,” she responded.

 “I think surely… I mean it’s 2018,” 

She later wrote on her Facebook page:

“On Bookshops – Not Libraries – in Nigeria.

French Journalist: Are your books read in Nigeria?

CNA: Yes.

French Journalist: Are there bookshops in Nigeria?

CNA: What?

French Journalist: I ask because French people don’t know. They know only about Boko Haram.

CNA: Well, I think it reflects poorly on French people that you asked that question.

Above, an excerpt, as I remember it, from my on-stage interview yesterday in Paris, at the launch of the rather wonderful ‘La Nuit Des Idees.’ (The Night of Ideas)

It appears that ‘librairie’ was mistakenly translated as ‘library’ when it actually means ‘bookshop.’

I do not expect a French person to know almost everything about Nigeria. I don’t know almost everything about France. But to be asked to ‘tell French people that you have bookshops in Nigeria because they don’t know’ is to cater to a wilfully retrograde idea – that Africa is so apart, so pathologically ‘different,’ that a non-African cannot make reasonable assumptions about life there.

I am a Nigerian writer whose early education was in Nigeria. It is reasonable to expect that Nigeria has at least one bookshop, since my books are read there.

Had the question been ‘is it difficult to get access to books?’ Or ‘are books affordable?’ It would have been different, worth engaging with, fair.

Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing. But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.

Perhaps French people cannot indeed conceive of Nigeria as a place that might have bookshops. And this, in 2018, in our age of interconnectedness and the Internet, is a shame.

That said, the journalist Caroline Broué was intelligent, thoughtful and well-prepared. When she asked the question, I was taken aback because it was far below the intellectual register of her previous questions.

I now know that she was trying to be ironic, to enlighten by ‘impersonating the ignorant,’ but because she had not exhibited any irony until then, I didn’t recognize it. Hers was a genuine, if flat, attempt at irony and I wish she would not be publicly pilloried.”