Composed, smiley and super smart, Chibundu Onuzo has spent the last few months promoting her latest book, Welcome to Lagos. The follow up to her debut novel – The Spider King’s Daughter – the 20-something London/Lagos-based writer has gained rave reviews for her second novel. Following two soldiers in Lagos after they go AWOL, Welcome to Lagos is ambitious, sprawling and quite brilliant. We caught up with Onuzo to discover the key books that have informed her life and work.
It took me forever to read, it’s massive. But The Count of Monte Cristo is the book that I would probably say made me want to become a writer. I’d be at school with my head was on my desk reading it, then I’d come home from school and warn my family: “don’t interrupt me, I’m in 19th century France. Don’t pester me with your trivial 20th century concerns!” This book was so important to me at an early stage in my life and demonstrated how powerful books could be.
There are reasons why this book is seminal. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time here in England and it was fantastic. This was the first time I’d read around a book to discover the sub text. I wanted to know what Achebe had to say about the book, about how it was his reaction to Joseph Conrad and Heart of Darkness – how he was writing back and refusing to accept people’s portrayals of Africa. It made me appreciate how books could work on so many levels.
I read it when I’m down, or when I’m not down. I will always start the day by reading a psalm. I’ve used some quotes from the bible in my new novel, Welcome to Lagos; the poetry and language are beautiful.
Poetry is something you can read a little here and there. It doesn’t make sense to me to read from start to finish, it’s not that sort of experience for me. I love Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo. She’s so funny about women and relationships. Wendy Copeland is fantastic, too.
One of the reasons I picked it up was because I had just finished reading Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell’s novel had me thinking at times, ‘how is this allowed to be written?’ On one hand it’s a nice romance between Scarlet O’Hara and Brett, but it was a re-writing of the slave trade and how ‘the slaves had a good time’. No they didn’t! It’s great to read The Underground Railroad and know I’m not crazy! Colson Whitehead has written an ‘alternative’ history of American’s slave trade. But, to be honest, I think Gone With The Wind is actually more of an alternative history!
Song of Solomon is my favourite of all the Toni Morrison novels that I’ve read. It’s epic: a family saga that’s also an exploration of American history.
Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome To Lagos is out now, published by Faber.