Arts, Culture & Media

Armchair Travel: Take a Trip to Nigeria with Writer Chinelo Okparanta

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Chinelo Okparanta (Photo: Montreux Rotholtz)

We invited the up and coming Nigerian-American writer Chinelo Okparanta to share her picks for our armchair travel series this summer.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled "Happiness, Like Water" comes out this August.

Okparanta takes us to the country of her birth, Nigeria. Her three picks cover a lot of ground from Nigeria's colonial past to the Biafran War of the late 1960s and early '70s to present day Lagos.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
Chinua Achebe is called by many the father of African literature and his novel Things Fall Apart a groundbreaking book. The novel takes readers to the late 1900s in pre-colonial Nigeria. The story chronicles the life of Okonkwo, who is ethnically Igbo, as he navigates the clash between British colonial rule and traditional Igbo culture.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
Jumping forward half a century to the late 1960s and early 1970s and a bloody period of Nigeria's past, the Biafran War. Adichie's novel takes place as the British exit Nigeria and the country plunges into ethnic strife. "I grew up in the shadow of Biafra," wrote Adichie, "I grew up hearing 'before the war' and 'after the war' stories; it was as if the war had somehow divided the memories of my family." This story follows two sisters, Olanna and Kainene through that tumultuous period.

Love is Power, Or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett (May, 2013)
This collection of short stories jumps forward in time to a contemporary Nigeria. Barrett introduces you to Nigerians of all walks of life from an internet scammer to a police officer, to a man with acute halitosis all navigating the streets of Lagos.

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta (2013) Okparanta's first collection of short stories takes readers to a present day Nigeria where the traditional beliefs class with the Christian church and everyday people struggle to grasp a fistful of happiness, like water.

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