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Photo credit: Herby Sachs via Caineprize.com

Last week, Caineprize.com published an essay by Rotimi Babatunde detailing his travel to Germany for a series of workshops centered around his 2012 Caine Prize-winning story “Bombay’s Republic.”

The story, one of the very finest to have been shortlisted for the prize, follows an adventurous man who volunteers to fight for the British in South Asia during World War II but who comes to a solid realization of the equal humanity of the races and subsequently returns home to humorously found his own independent republic.

Babatunde’s essay is titled “Out of Europe: Traveling with the Caine Prize in Germany” and is delivered in the second-person, in the sharp, observant prose we have come to associate with his writing. But it is his command of history, his choice of references, that elevates this from an insightful travel piece to a searing revisitation of historical ironies.

The piece begins in an Istanbul airport where three people with lingual barriers are temporarily stranded: a Turk, a German, and a Nigerian—Babatunde himself. A scene that would make a sumptuous point of departure for an interrogation of culture and the reversals of history.

So the Turk, the German and the Nigerian, transiting through Istanbul from different places but, like Chaucer’s medieval pilgrims, compelled into instant comradeship by a common purpose, begin the long hunt for the relevant ticketing desk. The Turk, clutching several rolls of duty-free cigarettes, is in the lead, the three of you sweeping briskly through the self-replicating vastness of that airport for what seemed an eternity before the ticketing desk is finally located.

“Bombay’s Republic” was translated into German by Thomas Bruckner—who has also translated Ngugi and Helon Habila—and published as a standalone piece. Some German institutions organized events to discuss the story and Babatunde locates irony in this.

Out of Europe comes something new, to tweak the motto of the Caine Prize. These cultural organisations include Stimmen Afrikas/Allerwelthaus in Cologne. The MA in Translation programme of the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. Die Afrika Kooperative in Münster. And the Goethe Institut, Lagos. That is why you’re heading to Germany, which has now become a bastion of liberalism in Europe despite its own right-wing issues, and why you’re in transit through Istanbul.

Babatunde offers insight into the workshops, especially on the delicate issue of translation.

After the preliminaries, the three-person team handling the translation into German, for the second time, of ‘Bombay’s Republic’ begin interrogating the story. The session lasts three hours. It is a rewarding experience. The questions raised by the team communicate their deep engagement with the story. In response to a comment about one of your long sentences, you voice out your assumption that such a sentence would be regular in German, which you know for its long sentences and word concatenations. Thomas Brückner says that tendency in the language makes long sentences written originally in another language even longer when translated into German.

Three paragraphs later, Babatunde delivers this:

It is a valid perspective to see the Second World War as a case of Germany trying to do to Europe what Europe, including Germany, had been doing to people in Africa and elsewhere for many centuries before the war.

Read the full piece HERE.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young was shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship. His short story, "You Sing of a Longing," was shortlisted for the 2017 Gerald Kraak Award. His first published story, “A Tenderer Blessing,” appears in Transition magazine and was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. His second story, "Mulumba," appears in The Threepenny Review and has been translated into the German. His essays appear in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays and Brittle Paper where he is Submissions Editor. He is the editor of the Art Naija series, a sequence of anthologies of writing and visual art which document aspects of Nigerian life. The first anthology, Enter Naija: The Book of Places, explores cities and marked Nigeria's 56th Independence anniversary. The second anthology, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations, explores professions and was published in June 2017. Otosirieze teaches English at a Nigerian university. When bored, he blogs popular culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com or just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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