Oyinkan Braithwaite is a twenty-something year old Nigerian storyteller, whose debut novel, My Sister the Serial Killer, has not only been described as a ‘feverishly hot’ and a ‘darkly funny hand grenade of a novel’ but whose film rights have also recently been sold. In person, this young writer is both surprisingly serene and disarmingly candid. Asked if her life had changed as a result of her success, she laughs loudly and shakes her head, saying that apart from the fact that she has more money in her account, not too much is different.
Braithwaite is clearly one of the new generation of young writers for whom globalization and internationalisation is a fundamental part of her identity. Growing up in Nigeria, she admits to being strongly influenced by all the American movies and TV that she watched as a child. Later, attending university in the UK where she studied Creative Writing and Law, she acknowledges the strong influence of British culture on her writing and also mentions her love of J-Pop from Japan and how this too has played a role in her development as an artist. She explains that English is the language in which she writes and with which she feels most comfortable although Yoruba is the language of her roots. As a result, Braithwaite admits to being nervous about the response of her fellow Nigerians to her work as ‘they are a very critical bunch of people’ and worries that that they won’t find enough of Nigeria in her novel. Although Oyinkan chose to return to Lagos after her studies abroad and clearly feels a strong attachment to her country she is understanding of those who choose to leave. ‘A lot of Nigerians simply run away from the country – it’s a tough place to live.’
‘We’re more forgiving of beautiful people’
Acknowledging that the novel itself is not so much about Nigeria as it is about broader concerns regarding modern society in a social media age, her interest is how contemporary society is so much ruled by looks and image. ‘I think that people nowadays are generally quite shallow’ Braithwaite says matter-of-factly and admits to being fascinated by the power of physical beauty. ‘We’re all drawn to beautiful people, we’re more forgiving of beautiful people.’ Nowhere is this more obvious than in My sister the serial killer. Koreda, the protagonist, discovers that her beautiful sister, Ayoola, has the habit of killing her boyfriends. Yet her beauty and all the confidence and innate sense of entitlement that comes with it, protects her and no one suspects her. The story is a little more complex than this however, for it is Koreda, a nurse in a large hospital in Legos, who helps her clean up the crime scenes. This is done, Oyinkan explains, partly out of a sense of loyalty to her sister. The notion of family loyalty and blood ties are central to the novel. As an older sister, Koreda has been brought up to look out for her younger siblings and yet crunch time arrives when a kind, handsome doctor with whom Koreda has fallen in love, asks the nurse for her sister’s number.
‘All the male deaths were not meant to be a statement.’
Her approach to the novel’s climax has been described by reviewers as ‘unobtrusively sly’ and some have commented on Braithwaite’s use of so called ‘black widow’ storytelling conventions in the book. The young author admits that the idea of having a woman kill her lovers occurred to her many years previously when she first learnt about the mating habits of the black widow spider. Rather like the spider, she explains, Ayoola kills when the mood takes her and often simply ‘because she can.’ Some might read into the novel a broader feminist agenda regarding the role of men and a subtext of female empowerment. But Oyinkan maintains that ‘all the male deaths were not meant to be a statement’. She is refreshingly frank about her own ignorance as to the motives guiding some of her characters. It is perhaps in this sense that Braithwaite is clearly a natural storyteller, for whom the creation of characters and plot is often instinctual. She is one of the new generation of African storytellers, a continent which enjoys a rich storytelling tradition. Drawing on both old and new, this young Nigerian is able to connect with an increasingly globalized audience. She describes herself as a storyteller, first and foremost, and says, ‘We live stories and stories can change people.’ Her stories certainly seem to have the power to do just that. Souwie Buis 2nd November 2018
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