Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

 

download (13)

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.

Tags: , , , ,

About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017), for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. His conversations appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

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.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

“What Keeps Girls from Knowing the Power in Them?”: Mona Eltahawy on the Importance of Female Rage

Mona ELTAHAWY

Egyptian writer and outspoken feminist Mona Eltahawy is asking important questions about the necessity and possibilities of female anger. In […]

Safia Elhillo’s Poem Used for Under Armour’s PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Campaign | Watch Video

safia-elhillo

American sports- and footwear company Under Armour is using a poem by Sudanese Safia Elhillo, titled “Kintsugi,” for its “Unlike […]

Fundraising in Progress for Onyeka Nwelue’s $27,000 Spine and Hip Dislocation Treatment Following Vehicle Accident

27867091_10155878379480937_8977074959532754883_n

Nigerian writer Onyeka Nwelue is currently hospitalised following spine and hip dislocations in a vehicle accident. It happened in Abuja on […]

Edited by Chris Abani, “Lagos Noir” Anthology Features Nnedi Okorafor, Igoni Barrett, Chika Unigwe, E.C. Osondu

LagosNoir

Award-winning novelist and poet Chris Abani is editing a 224-page anthology called Lagos Noir. Set to published by Akashic Books in […]

Long-time Director Lizzy Attree Leaves the Caine Prize

lizzy attree - caine prize

After seven years as its Director, Lizzy Attree has left the Caine Prize. A mainstay on the literary scene, the industrious […]

The Brittle Paper Digest: 79 Notable Pieces of 2017

St Mark's Bookshop - Image architectural office

It isn’t that time of the year when we look back on what happened in it—that time is December, and […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.