Paperback : 30 Apr 2009
Read an extract from: Blonde Roots
Welcome to a world turned upside down. One minute, Doris, from England, is playing hide-and-seek with her sisters in the fields behind their cottage. The next, someone puts a bag over her head and she ends up in the hold of a slave-ship sailing to the New World . . .
In this fantastically imaginative inversion of the transatlantic slave trade - in which 'whytes' are enslaved by black people - Bernardine Evaristo has created a thought-provoking satire that is as accessible and readable as it is intelligent and insightful. Blonde Roots brings the shackles and cries of long-ago barbarity uncomfortably close and raises timely questions about the society of today.
On the eve of the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction awards ceremony, the six members of the Orange Prize youth panel chose Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton) as their overall winner.
Lily Dessau (16), said, “Blonde Roots is emotive, moving and thought-provoking. It has everything we were asked to look for – accessibility, originality and excellence – and more.”
Max Elsworth (19), added, “Blonde Roots has opened new literary doors for me – it’s a truly remarkable read.”
The Orange Prize for Fiction Shadow Judging Panel is made up of six Spinebreakers teen editors aged between 16-19. The meeting was facilitated by Kate Mosse, author and Honorary Director of the Orange Prize and after months of intense reading for the prize, the six panel members will all be invited to the Orange Prize Awards Ceremony on 3rd June.
Find out more about what the Spinebreakers thought of Blonde Roots at www.spinebreakers.co.uk.
This is your first book which is completely written in prose. Was that a big leap for you to make?
A massive leap. In fact it’s a leap that took about 18 years to make. I first tried to write a prose novel in 1990 but the novel turned into a novel-in-verse. I then tried to write a prose novel with Soul Tourists and that turned into a novel-with-verse. Each time I tried to write prose my use of language became flat and uninteresting. Finally, with Blonde Roots, I managed to keep the spirit of poetry but to write prose.
Have you missed writing poetry?
Not really. I’m a storyteller and poetry was a vehicle for this with my novels-in-verse. It’s been a long time since I felt the impulse to sit down and write independent poems that were not narrative. I’m much more interested in story, characters, plot, exploring ideas through fiction..
All your books have strong female characters. Can you imagine writing a book without these?
I guess I can’t help but create strong female protagonists. That said, I’ve also created many male characters in my books and women who aren’t so strong. But essentially, if you look at Blonde Roots, Soul Tourists and The Emperor’s Babe, then we are dealing with some very individualistic, strong-minded women, even if their lives allow them limited freedom.
The issue of race is obviously central to your writing. Do you think this will always be the case?
Yes, race plays some part in my writing to a greater or lesser extent but my books are not all about race, even though they all have black characters, and, as it happens, lots of white characters too.
The Emperor’s Babe is not actually about race, it is a challenge to the myth of Britain’s mono-racial history in that it’s about a black girl living in Roman London 1800 years ago. Zuleika, the girl in question, does not, however, in those pre-racist times, lead a life defined by her colour.
Lara is about people who emigrated to Britain from other countries (Nigeria, Germany, Ireland) and about a mixed-race marriage and offspring. Race plays a big part in Lara but it also covers themes to do with emigration, longing and belonging not defined by race. Soul Tourists is about Europe’s hidden histories and uncovering some of the people of colour who lived on the continent over the past 2,500 years.
Blonde Roots is the only novel I’ve written that is without question a novel about race; racism and slavery too.
So to answer your question, I’m not sure if I’d be too interested in creating fiction that does not include black characters, but that does not mean that every book I write is going to be about race.
Can you tell us a little about what you're working on now?
Will the printed word endure?
The big question for me is whether reading itself will endure.
Which newspaper do you read?
Lots: Independent, Observer, Times, Guardian, Sunday Times, Mirror. Freebies.
Who/What is your biggest influence?
Too numerous to mention
What books are you reading at the moment?
Chekhov’s short stories. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read them. They are intense, insightful, psychologically-penetrating, haunting, lingering.
What books did you read as a child?
Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes sticks in my mind. As a teenager I went to the library every week to get books. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were favourites, although I’d probably hate them now. Dylan Thomas, Tennyson, Thor Heyerdhal’s explorer books. I loved reading, still do.
Which literary character would you most like to meet?
Oedipus – before and after. Poor sod!
Which authors do you most admire?
I prefer to talk about books. So off the top of my head. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Bone People by Keri Hulme, English Passengers By Mathew Kneale, Midsummer by Derek Walcott, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and many, many more
Where/When do you do most of your writing?
At my desk in my study. It’s actually a massive wooden IKEA dining table 12 foot long that takes up most of the room and I love it. Funnily enough, it’s still not big enough. I need two.
What’s your favourite word/book?
Have you ever had any other jobs apart from writing?
Newspaper delivery girl, restaurant worker, shop worker, actor, theatre company manager, arts manager, creative writing tutor.
Who or what always puts a smile on your face?
The funny comments people leave on my Facebook updates.
What’s your earliest memory?
Walking under the River Thames via the tunnel at Woolwich with my family late at night.
What is your greatest fear?
How would you like to be remembered?
Statues and monuments dotted around London will do. Perhaps a national day
of mourning, if that’s not pushing it?
Have you even done something you’ve really regretted?
And I should tell you?
How do you spoil yourself?
Who do you turn to in a crisis?
I don’t have them. I have moments of despair and drama that metamorphose into moments of opportunity….
What makes you angry?
How much time do we have? Wars, injustice, hypocrisy, poverty, abuse, exploitation, celebrity culture – the usual.
Are you in love?
What’s your worst vice?
And I should tell you?
What are you proudest of?
Where’s your favourite city?
When was the last time you cried?
Listening to Michelle Obama’s words of inspiration this week to the girls at Elizabeth Garret Anderson School in Islington. I think she should become US president after her husband’s two terms in office.
One wish: what would it be?
On a personal note – to be able to time travel back to, say, Roman London
or Ancient Greece. Tardis, anyone?
Did you enjoy school?
Yes, mainly for the social interaction. (Oh, just in case Michelle O is reading this – I KNOW, I should have worked harder. Sorry!)
What's your worst habit?
That I should tell you?
What makes you mad!
Motorists nearly knocking me off the road when I’m on my bicycle. B*stards!!!!
Have you ever broken the law?
That I should tell….
What quality would you most like to have?
More Dalai Lama-esque-ness
If you could swap a physical attribute with someone else, what would it be and who would you swap it with?
Naomi Campbell’s musculature.
Have you got a party trick?
Does getting pissed count?
Do you have any nicknames?
Bernie. B. Goddie B (to my god-daughters) although I insist they shorten it to God.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
Size : 129 x 198mm
Pages : 272
Published : 30 Apr 2009
Publisher : Penguin
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