On January 25, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie headlined the Paris edition of the Night of Ideas, a cross-continental initiative run by the French Institute, featuring public discussions on topical issues. Adichie’s conversation with French journalist Caroline Broué was an absorbing exchange themed “power to the imagination”.
It went smoothly, until it didn’t. During an exchange regarding politics and education in Nigeria, Broué asked: “Are there any bookstores in Nigeria?” to the audience’s and Adichie’s bafflement. In true Adichie form with intelligence and reason she responded: “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question.”
It turns out the French journalist Caroline Broué made a failed attempt at irony but the thoughtless question caused a twitter uproar none-the-less. Especially considering the number of extraordinary writers who’ve come from Nigeria over the years, including Adichie, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, and Buchi Emecheta, to name a few.
These acclaimed writers are well-known and widely read in Nigeria and around the world. It made Caroline Broué appear incompetent. Obviously the smallest bit of research on her part could have alleviated the situation.
An opinion piece posted by The Guardian attempted to see the other side of the controversy and address a parallel issue regarding the decline in reading books in Nigeria and so in publishing. But the piece is an issue that nations around the world are experiencing, including France. Even Chimamanda addressed this on her facebook page after the event as she too tried to reason Broué’s strange question.
The article written on The Guardian by a fellow Nigerian went right over the heads of commenters. Some of the comments were truly frightening for their ignorance.
2 thoughts on “Topics Trending The TFP Office: Are There Bookstores In Nigeria, Mexico, Or The Philippians? 😲”
That the writer of this article would spell the Philippines (a South East Asian country) as Philippians (a book in the bible, the New Testament to be exact) also neatly illustrates the extent of Western ignorance. If it is meant to be ironic, then it is poorly rendered irony. Much like the kind of failed “irony” the writer complains about within this article. Which is ironic. And also redundant.
Living in a developing world country myself and being engaged in the business of making books, I’m not so sure what is ignorant about the following comment:
Brazil is in the same situation. Bookshops are only found in the better off areas of bigger cities and books are very expensive. I’ve bought books there and was shocked at the prices. Try to find books on Brazilian fauna and flora. There aren’t any. Agriculture, farming, biology etc very scarce and ludicrously expensive.
This is a pretty on the nose description of book making/selling for a developing world country. Whoever got “offended” for us dwellers of the developing world probably hasn’t spent much time outside of a Western country, much less engaged in the publishing industry in countries like the “Philippians”.
Perhaps the only thing that could be questioned in the above comment is the statement that there aren’t any books on local flora and fauna. There surely are, except they are most likely very difficult to find, keeping to small editions, distributed briefly and not massively (due to lack of public interest in titles such as these), quick to go out of print. As for ludicrously expensive… probably so for the average citizen of countries like Brazil. Here in the Philippines, it is extremely true that local books are often (not always, but often) twice or thrice the price of foreign counterpart publications. Also here, as in many post-colonial developing world countries, you’d be hard-pressed to find bookstores outside of rich urban areas. They do exist of course, but are extremely rare. In rural areas, what is called a “bookstore” usually sells more school supplies than actual books. And the publications they might carry would be mostly (elementary/secondary) school text books, and the odd religious book or pulp romance novel.
Other comments picked out and mentioned in this article were, indeed, ignorant (no, there is not just one public library in the Philippines, but it sometimes seems like it, as the National Library located in Manila is possibly the only public library many, many Filipinos know of). That being said, before identifying every single comment as racist, please check your own ignorance. Please stop telling us to be offended by truthful, objective, and non-reductive observations about our cultures and countries. If we were to become angry at all negative comments about our cultures/countries, this would devolve into a lack of accountability, a decline in criticality, and a dangerously narcissistic disregard for our flaws and the need to correct them.
Comparing a spelling error to a belief that books are scarce or non-existent outside of western nations is beyond an “apples to oranges” argument and one I won’t even try to defend as it is ridiculous. If the scarcity of books on flora and fauna in Brazil is false, I’m sure the statement of one library for a nation of 100,000,000 people in the PHILIPPINES is also false.
And I won’t stop calling out bigoted racist statements that have a long lasting effect on entire groups of people because you don’t like the way it reads. One library in all of the PHILIPPINES for a nation of 100,000,000 people is ignorant and speaks to how poorly we educate our children about the WORLD in the United States, I am an American living abroad by the way. The statements I call out are RACIST. These statements are dangerous because it comes from people in a position of power and it perpetuate stereotypes and leads to base decisions that have a larger effect over those who have less power – believe it or not, words are powerful. But as the world changes and western power folds into a society based upon equality then we won’t need to have this conversation at all, won’t you be happy then!