Journey into identity

18 Jun 2018

Offering a beautifully captured glimpse into the lives and loves of young black men in Britain, When We Speak of Nothing is the debut novel by German-Nigerian writer Olumide Popoola.

Her sensitive portrayal of these relationships has captured the attention of readers and critics alike for its attention to the language of London’s streets, as well as its sensitive and nuanced treatment of transgender identity.

Popoola has published several other titles, and won high praise for her previously published work. Writing in the Financial Times, novelist Diana Evans praises the book’s vivid language, which includes text speak, London slang and Pidgin English.

“It’s almost a listening experience, as well as a very visual reading experience, and the overall effect is a deeper intimacy with Abu and Karl’s complex inner-worlds,” she says.

LOYALTY AND FRIENDSHIP

Talking about the inspiration for her most recent book, Popoola says: “I noticed that young black men get vilified before they have even done anything or have a chance to become anything.

“I really wanted to look at masculinities and the things that I saw and watched young men share; the tenderness, the love – the platonic love – and explore that.”

Brittle Paper, a leading literary blog, called her book “a work that bears witness to the growing diversity of African fiction through the documentation queer black/African lives.”

While the book has a transgender protagonist, Popoola says that principally her story is about a friendship between two young men: “I wanted to write a story about loyalty and friendship and things that happen in London, and about human rights and the Niger Delta.”

COMPLEX EXPERIENCE

Popoola says the journey of the characters mirrors her own experience of growing up and living in different places as an African and German Woman.

“I think being of the African Diaspora comes into my work in several ways – going from Britain to Nigeria. It’s about movement and exploring identity in a complex manner.

“I myself have been going between Nigeria and Germany since I was a baby really. This idea of non-fixed or unfixed identity and cultural identity is something that comes into my writing all the time.”

When We Speak of Nothing

Olumide Popoola

Cassava Republic Press