On Duplicitous Commitments to Women: A Dialogue with Olukorede S. Yishau

ON DUPLICITOUS COMMITMENTS TO WOMEN

A DIALOGUE WITH OLUKOREDE S. YISHAU

Olukorede S. Yishau is a Nigerian creative writer and multiple award-winning journalist. His first novel, In The Name of Our Father, was nominated for the Nigerian Prize for Literature, Africa’s largest literary prize, in 2021. After The End is his fourth book and second novel. Yishau is the United States Bureau Chief for The Nation Newspapers. He lives in Houston, Texas.

Tope Adegoke II. Credit Dirk Skiba

BY TỌ́PẸ́-ẸNIỌBAŃKẸ́ ADÉGÒKÈ

This conversation took place between Nigeria and the United States, via WhatsApp and email.

Tọ́pẹ́: After The End is dedicated to the Nigerian novelist, Chigozie Obioma, and I was immediately curious why. But by the time I got to the acknowledgements, I saw it was in recognition of his helpful comments during the book’s editorial process. Can you elaborate on how his feedback influenced the development of the novel and your friendship with him? 

Olukorede: There have been a number of people curious over that decision, one even asked me if he was my mentor. Dedicating the book to him was a promise I made to myself and even when the printer’s devil almost truncated it, my publisher had to halt publication for me to fulfill this personal promise. Well, it started this way: Chigozie and I were having a conversation at an Ogudu-Lagos eatery shortly after the release of his second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities, and I mentioned to him that I was working on a second novel. 

I narrated the story to him, and he felt it held a lot of promise and offered to read it for me. He was due to return to the US and wanted it printed out for him, which I did, and he took it with him. In no time, Chigozie had read the manuscript in its raw form and gave valuable suggestions in two notes, one lengthy and professorial, the other short and sharp. At that time, it was narrated entirely in third person and was over 70,000 words and contained things that shouldn’t be there, things he described as distractions, and I agreed with him after taking a second look. He pointed out that if I got rid of the distractions, among other things, I was onto something great. 

He also liked how the story plunged readers straight into chaos. Another thing he observed was what he described as my talent for subplots. In fact, he said some interesting novels he had read were based on materials less intriguing than what I was using as subplots. There was a particular one he felt could make a novel on its own. I eventually took out a number of these subplots so as to focus the story better. Some of the subplots have become short stories. After his feedback, I left the manuscript for some months and eventually rendered it through the point of view of Idera and Lydia. I was so impressed with his suggestions that I made that promise to myself and years down the line, I kept it. Of course with time, based on some other vital suggestions from Professor Maik Nwosu and others, Lydia’s point of view gave way to Google’s in third person. 

As for our friendship, it started with my take on An Orchestra of Minorities. I had posted a picture of his book and another book on Instagram and commented that I was unsure of which to read first, but that I was tempted to read his first because he is Nigerian and because of my fantastic experience with The Fishermen, his first novel. He commented on the post: ‘Funny man, enjoy.’  

Infidelity is something all human beings struggle with. It isn’t gender-specific. When people say men are cheats, I sometimes wonder who they cheat with. Like polygamy, I believe it will only end when this world ends.

Tọ́pẹ́: Knowing how the story started for you might help in understanding it better. Some authors have claimed the catalyst for them was a character, a scene, a dialogue, etc. How did yours come to you? And, what part did you find most difficult to write? 

Olukorede: One day, I was reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I can’t remember if I was reading it for the first time or if I was re-reading it, but at a point, this idea of writing a novel built around one of Williams Shakespeare’s popular quotes ‘the evil that men do…’ took over me and that was how I started work on this novel. The working title then was ‘I Thought You’ll Never Ask’. Of course, I knew it would not fly. It later became ‘Like Someone Skating On Thin Ice’ and later ‘The Days After An End’. Every part came with its challenge, but alternating the points of views must have been the most difficult part. In fact, one of my editors felt there was no need for alternating the points of views; she felt it was going to spoil the story but I didn’t think so and eventually we agreed to Google’s POV. 

Tọ́pẹ́: The story is written in first and third POVs. You allow Idera to tell her story herself while you elect yourself to speak for the dead in Demola – why did you allow this for Idera and not Lydia, too? I think it couldn’t have worked any better. Balancing between these two POVs, especially for gender correctness, must be challenging I want to imagine.  

Olukorede: For me, the story is essentially Idera’s story because Demola and Lydia knew what was going on. Idera was the only one in the dark. Without her being aggrieved because her illusions were shattered, the story wouldn’t have been what it is and it wouldn’t have been After The End. This is why she has to speak for herself and Demola and Lydia, the ‘two accused’, have to speak ‘together’. The fact that it is essentially Idera’s story is the reason my publisher decided on only one female picture on the cover as against having two women and or two women and a man. Using the alternative POVs of course came with its challenges, but I’m glad it came out well and I will be eternally grateful to brilliant Tahirah, one of the editors, for eventually agreeing to it despite her initial position that it could mar the story. 

Tọ́pẹ́: Another narrative technique you employed is the epistolary form, a style you’ve experimented with in your previous books. Even your recent review of Abubakar Umar Sidi’s debut novel is written in this format. I must admit you’ve put some ideas in my head. But I want to ask, how did this idea come to you, could it be attributed to your position as a columnist for The Nation?

Olukorede: I doubt if it has anything to do with my position as a columnist. Over time, I discovered that epistles or letters have a way of communicating certain messages better. Sidi’s book is a mad book and I felt the usual review wouldn’t do to convey my thoughts on this sui generis work. Sidi was on a different planet while writing that work and I had to wonder who his marijuana plug was. Bro was simply mad and didn’t care if the novel broke rules or not. The letters in After The End are very emotional, especially the last one, which also shows redemption and aligns with the main character’s name, Ideraoluwa. She has finally found God’s relief after it all. So, when I need to take emotions to a different level, I just go the Mariama Ba way in So Long A Letter, but in most cases mine are so short letters. 

Tọ́pẹ́: Still on narrative technique, there is a part of the novel that is so dramatic that it reminds me of William Faulkner’s novel, Requiem for a Nun. What inspired this stylistic approach to that scene? 

Olukorede: After The End is drama, from the beginning to the end, and I’m not surprised readers are saying they felt they were seeing a movie while reading it. I decided on that style because I wanted to make even the laziest reader read my work. And I think it has worked because I have received feedback from readers who just wanted to see what the book was about and before they know it, they are lured in by the opening line: ‘Google died…’ which made them wonder what is this writer up to and from then on, they start turning the pages. 

Tọ́pẹ́: Polygamy is the central theme your novel builds on. It is a complex cultural code among Africans, I should say, and the circumstance that prompted it in your novel even makes it more complicated. Can you comment on this? 

Olukorede: Polygamy is a cultural code that will ever generate debates. In the cases in the book, Demola’s and his father’s, it started like just trying to have fun. In Demola’s case, his wife was stuck in Nigeria and he ended up trying his luck with another person. He tried to resist it because he didn’t want to turn out like his father. His father’s case was a bit different. He started out helping a woman in distress and with time, he crossed the line and he couldn’t go back and sank further to the extent of dumping his first family. So, the circumstances are never the same. There are people who with their full chest go into polygamy and don’t just stop at two women. There are others whose desires lead them into it and they stay with it. There is also the religious angle to it, especially with Islam and traditional African religion, which see nothing in it. Islam, for instance, allows four provided you can love them equally, but the question is: can you truly love them equally? It’s a question polygamists dodge.  

Tọ́pẹ́: What do you think Demola could have done differently before he died? Do you think he’s an accidental or deceptive polygamist? This is the crux of the novel and it might not be so simple under a critical scalpel? 

Olukorede: I think we at times find ourselves in situations whose complexities are beyond us. I think Demola is an accidental polygamist. This seems clear enough in the story, but he had to become deceptive in order to cover his tracks, the chaos underneath has to be covered in such a way that everything looks orderly on the periphery. Like they say, what you’re not supposed to eat, don’t smell it. He smelt Idera and saw that she smelled good and going back became Hobson’s choice. 

Tọ́pẹ́: A minor character I like in the novel is Suliat. She is a support system for Idera and without her, the story might have developed differently. I find her comment about the pervasiveness of polygamy in the West shocking: ‘Things like this are not new in London. Wasn’t it the other year that two women living on the same street discovered they were married to the same man after he died? And they were both making arrangements for a befitting burial.’ I didn’t think this happens a lot there. Is this merely for the benefit of fiction or it actually echoes your research while writing the book?

Olukorede: Suliat is what you call a friend in need and in deed. Great babe, great support system despite the madness running in her bloodstream. I love her to the moon and back and I’m glad I wrote her. I just felt Idera needed a backbone and gave her one to help her through the turbulence of life. 

As for polygamy in the West, it exists very well, but under the table. Our people who are in the West, particularly, engage in it, but they are very clever in the sense that only one is legalised. I know of someone who has been with a particular woman for ten years; he gave her an engagement ring and they take trips to Nigeria together, but he has a legal wife at home. Aside from that, I also know of someone from an African country who brought his two wives to America and they are living happily ever after. So, it isn’t just for the benefit of fiction. I just can’t remember very well again, but I think that particular one Suliat mentioned was a true story someone told me. 

Tọ́pẹ́: You return to some of the themes in your short story collection, Vault of Secrets, in this novel. I remember I interviewed you on this where I asked about the phenomenon of secrecy and infidelity. Can you speak more on this, especially on the former? 

Olukorede: The truth is that two of the stories in Vault of Secrets were back stories edited out of After The End. ‘Lydia’s World’ and ‘Otapiapia’ are the two stories so the themes of secrecy or duality and infidelity shouldn’t be surprising. Infidelity is something all human beings struggle with. It isn’t gender-specific. When people say men are cheats, I sometimes wonder who they cheat with. Like polygamy, I believe it will only end when this world ends. 

Tọ́pẹ́: The novel evokes a sense of déjà vu with its socio-political reference to the Babangida’s regime and the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which led to the final disintegration of Demola’s family. How do you see the parallels between the socio-political climate of that era and today’s Nigeria?

Olukorede: In today’s Nigeria, we complain of fuel price increase, skyrocketing food prices and others; the truth is that they aren’t new. They also happened in the SAP era. I’m just happy I wrote that scene because it will tell readers that we are just going round in cycle. The socio-political climate of that era and now is only different because now we have civil rule but then we had military dictatorship. 

Tọ́pẹ́: The setting of the book spans different cities: Lagos, Liverpool, London and Ile-Ife, where Idera’s story has its origin. You know, given the Yoruba belief that Ile-Ife is where the dawn breaks, your story lends some credence to this idea. On a rather amusing note, I don’t know if you’ve read this quirky interview that Professor Akin Adesokan had with Fela Aníkúlápó-Kútì when they were both in Ikoyi prison? Fela in his rare moment of sobriety turned colonialism on its head when he said: ‘When you hear London, for instance, that was the beginning of the power in Europe. The British was the first to colonise the world. They got the power from Ife. That was where London got the name from L-o-n-d-o-ni from Ooni, which again means crocodile.’ If you were to invert colonial history like Fela, how would you rename Liverpool or Manchester, Birmingham using Yoruba influences?

Olukorede: Unfortunately, I don’t have Fela’s range when it comes to being mischievous. He even once said condom means kodomi (“he didn’t have sex with me”). I have cracked my head for some minutes and can’t come up with anything on Liverpool, where Idera and Demola’s journey took root or Manchester or Birmingham. So, I have given up and I leave Fela with the crown you’re trying to wrest from him and bestow on me. 

Tọ́pẹ́: Thanks for having this conversation with me and congratulations, egbon Korede. I truly enjoyed the novel. I think you should really be proud of it. 

Olukorede: Thank you, too, for reading and for the kind words, which will ginger me to keep writing. As for being proud of After The End, all I’ll say is that I’m happy I wrote it and look forward to it having its centuries in the sun. 

Tope Adegoke II. Credit Dirk Skiba

Tọ́pẹ́-ẸniỌbańkẹ́ Adégòkè (formerly writing as Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke) is a traveller, literary critic and writer from Ibadan, Nigeria. He is the co-publisher of Fortunate Traveller, a travel journal. He writes for Wawa Book Review and Africa in Words.

His poems, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in Aké Review, Agbowó, A Long House, Silver Pinion, Arab Lit Quarterly, Panorama: The Journal of Travel, Place and Nature, Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, and Africa in Dialogue. He is a fellow of LOATAD’s 2024 Black Atlantic Residency Program. Tọ́pẹ́-ẸniỌbańkẹ́ enjoys travelling and cooking. @LiteraryGansta is his alter ego on X.

TỌ́PẸ́-ẸNIỌBAŃKẸ́ ADÉGÒKÈ

GUEST INTERVIEWER

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *