Oyinkan Braithwaite (Lagos, 1988) sits on a wrought-iron chair painted green, at the foot of a Canarian palm tree, in a garden where the birds have decided to engage in a sonorous battle between mangoes, abandoned cages, aloes and medlars. Below him, the uneven lawn sprouts streaked with volcanic ash, and a colony of cats conspire to seize control of every corner and every human.
“My name is Oyinkan Braithwaite and I am the author of my serial killer sistershe says, tidying up her silver tresses. She dons everlasting animal-print sunglasses and huge gold earrings. We are in Llanos de Aridane, in the shadow of the volcano. She comes to inaugurate the space dedicated to Antonio Lozano –writer and professor of Literature at the University of La Laguna, who died three years ago– at Aridane Criminal, the crime and detective novel festival directed by fellow Canarian author Alexis Ravelo.
Organized to the punch and with love, Aridane Criminal a gap is made between so many festivals of the genre, marked with Ravelo’s very personal imprint: quality, love for books, cinema and music, and the desire to get together and make friends. this festival it devotes, for the first time in its short history, a space to African crime novel writing. Braithwaite is part of an exquisite menu of writers, including Carlos Zanón, Marcelo Luján, Elio Quiroga and Esther García Llovet. Although in the atmosphere weighs the sudden disappearance of the Spanish Domingo Villar.
“When I wrote My sister, serial killer, I didn’t think about gender”, he specifies. “When I finished and the publisher started working on the book, I realized that they had classified the novel as criminal. But, in reality, it is more about the family and about the sisters than about the crimes that take place, ”says Braithwaite, who defends his own conception of his work. “I didn’t really think of crime fiction, so when they ask me what genre it is, I say Not to gobecause I think it is closer to the Not to go than of the contemporary criminal genre.
Braithwaite confesses his love for flawed characters, whom he finds more interesting than perfect people, who aren’t as appealing to write or read about. “I like my characters to be problematic,” he says. “Give them some characteristics that, if I met these people in real life, I might not like them, but it would be interesting to know what they could do in this or that scenario.” Braithwaite partially justifies his characters. “I think it’s easy to be good or kind when you haven’t faced something traumatic or been in a really difficult situation, because when that happens is when you realize who you really are and where you want to go,” he says.
The author spent most of her childhood in London, then studied law and creative writing in the same country, finally returning a decade ago to Nigeria, the country where she was born and the home of her parents. Since then, she has worked at the Nigerian publisher Kachifo, as well as in the education and entertainment sectors. She has also published two novels –My sister, serial killer Y the baby is mine–, both translated into Spanish and edited by Alpha Decay.
In Nigeria there are many people who want to read, but access to books is not easy or cheap
Braithwaite places both titles in Nigeria, where he says that reading is loved and the range of literary genres that attract readers is expanding. However, he laments that Nigerian authors have to succeed abroad to be of interest at home. “My experience is that the books that get public attention in Nigeria are the ones that have gotten attention outside of the country, and that’s a shame,” he notes. The woman assumes that this situation is due to the lack of funds from the publishing industry, which does not arouse the passions of music or nollywood. “There are many people who want to read, but access to books is not easy or cheap,” he points out. Regarding her own experience as a reader, Braithwaite explains that the pandemic complicated her relationship with long-term fiction and she opted for short novels and stories. Like most of her, she was in a constant state of restlessness, and besides, she was busy with her wedding preparations.
“I think there is a lot of duplicity in Nigeria,” he reflects after a while, in line with the portrait of his country’s society that is reflected in his work. “The family unit is still very important and there are large and extended families. Also, there are different tribes and cultures. In order to preserve all that, people tend to keep a lot of secrets.” The writer also points out the great contrasts that persist. “Nigeria is the kind of place where you have rich people on one side of the highway and poor people who are suffering on the other. Those of us who do not suffer have perfected the art of looking the other way. Of not seeing the other side of Lagos or Nigeria”.
Braithwaite describes a society that is apparently fine, but mentions that there is a tension that lurks behind a pretense of normalcy. “It’s always there and you expect it to explode at any moment,” she adds, reinforcing the message with the language of her hands. “The Lekki toll massacre and the 2020 riots were an example that society is not okay, and that we put a kind of blindfold on things. Politicians make false promises and it seems that they are reacting to these issues, but in reality they are not and things continue to cook under the surface.
The author claims Yoruba culture, Christian and a writer in transit, but also celebrates her British side. She loves Lagos, despite her regrets, and describes it as a city full of fun, tough and vital people. “Depending on where I am, I’m considered British, Anglo-Nigerian or Nigerian,” she notes. “My books talk about the Nigerian experience, but they also talk about the human experience.”
Before saying goodbye, he politely refuses to advance anything about his immediate projects, although he points out that he develops several parallel texts that focus on the lives of somewhat “special” women. She confesses that, on her bedside table in Llanos de Aridane, rests a copy of The beloved girls (the girls loveds), by Harriet Evans.
In her speech that night, Braithwaite will promise to follow the path of the noir genre, delighted to discover the fun of its festivals and the loving company that they entail. After her first successful foray into the world of literary events in Spain, she seems willing to continue being pampered.