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By Toyin Akinosho

I ran into Xaver von Cranach at breakfast.

A literary correspondent of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, he sat two tables away from me, intensely reading the last pages of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.

I was curious about the man engaged with a printed copy of a novel by one of the country’s leading authors in the middle of a buffet setting in a Lagos hotel at 10:12am in the morning.

“Hello”, I said, by way of starting a conversation. “That’s Adichie you are reading. I know of this novel. But my favourite of her works remains Half of a Yellow Sun.

“Oh, so you know Adichie?”

“Yes, and I know of this book, which I categorise as a member of an evolving collection of Nigerian diaspora literature.”

He responded to that description with a faint quizzical expression. So, I asked him: “You don’t sound English.”

He said he was German.

“So, what do you do, seeing that you’re interested in Nigerian literature?”

“I am a journalist”, he explained. “I write for Der Spiegel.”

The German newsmagazine. I was impressed. “You are a big man”.

“I came here to interview Adichie.”

“You’re here specifically for that?”

“Yes, I flew in yesterday. The interview is tomorrow”.

“Adichie, she’s in Nigeria?”

“Yes, she is.”

Lillygate Hotel is a seven -minute walk from where I live and their breakfast buffet may not be all you get at Radisson Blu, but it is close by (off Admiralty Way, Lekki 1) and affordable enough (about half of what you pay at Raddison’s). The wait staff is also utterly courteous.

The hotel also has its own bit of history with the arts of the country. Its reception hall hosted an endearing scene in Kemi Adetiba’s Wedding Party 1. Here Rosie (Beverly Naya) first appears (more like poses like a model), facing Felix Onwuka (Richard Mofe Damijo), and after greetings, asks to see Dozie (Onwuka’s son, played by Banky W), who’s her boyfriend. Naya’s posture and Mofe-Damijo’s philandering gaze, for a very brief moment, featured some of the most memorable shots in the film.

THE CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH CRANACH WAS THE SECOND ‘literature over breakfast’ meeting I would be having at Lilygate.

Three months ago, I met up with Femi Osofisan, Nigeria’s most performed playwright. He was a one-night guest at the hotel, so I joined him for breakfast about an hour to his scheduled departure. We talked about his newly published biography of Gamaliel Onosode, Onosode:  A Honorable Life, for which he was in town to launch. I told him that Spencer Onosode, the book subject’s third son, was one of the keenest financial supporters of the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF). Then I watched him appear scandalized when I requested him to be a special guest of honour at the Festival.  “A month away!”, he gasped. “You people are unfair”, he said of me and Jahman Anikulapo, who is the Festival’s producer. Professor Osofisan was, however, kind to agree.

But I digress horribly.

Xaver von Cranach told me he had read only two novels of Adichie: Purple Hibiscus and Americanah. “In Europe and in Germany, she’s very famous”.

I thought she must be; for a top newsmagazine to put someone on the plane, in this COVID season, just for one interview, not about a breaking news, not about a crisis. A personal interview.

“In Europe they see her as a symbol of cultural Africa”, Cranach said. “It must be difficult for her, for one person’s views to be seen as representative of an entire continent.”

He talked about her several appearances at conferences in Europe and mentioned the novelist’s engagement with (former German Chancellor) Angela Merkel whose video clip went viral.

He asked me to name my favourite Nigerian novelist. I said Sefi Atta. “I see my story in what she writes”, I offered. “Places I have been 30 years ago; characters I have followed in my teens; mannerisms that I assume are personal to me, leap at me from her works”. 

Cranach doesn’t know Atta. But he has read Teju Cole.

“He doesn’t really associate with Nigeria”, I said.

“Yes, he is more American”, he agreed.

“Adichie comes across as first and last, Nigerian”, I noted.

The moment I said that, I remembered it wasn’t that simple, but this was supposed to be a light conversation.

Cranach also has a feel for the works of Bernardine Evaristo, “who”, he declared, “is partly Nigerian”.

“Yes, she connects very well with this country”, I said of the 2019 Booker Prize winner.

Cranach joined Der Spiegel only a year ago. And he writes on literature. “I write also on German, French and English literature”.

His unit at Der Spiegel must be quite busy. When I looked up the website minutes after our meeting, I found a report that ”Germans bought a total of 273Million books”, in 2020. According to the Media Control Ranking, “the most popular was a novel by US author Delia Owens. A German writer follows in second place”, the report said.

Cranach freelanced for three years before he got the job at Der Spiegel.

 

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