Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie was asked during an interview in France if there were any bookshops in her country — and her clapback was epic.
“I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question,” she responded.
The audience erupted in applause as the incredulous “Americanah,” author added: “I think surely… I mean it’s 2018,” she said in the video of the event posted by French news channel Loopsider.
Adichie was the star guest at a global ideas event hosted by the French government called “La Nuit Des Idees” (A Night of Ideas).
Midway through the chat, she was asked if her books are read in Nigeria.
“You’ll be shocked to know that they are, yes… They are read and studied, not just in Nigeria but across the continent of Africa,” she said.
The interviewer then followed up by asking if there were bookshops in the country. The audience gasped and the visibly embarrassed journalist tried to back up, explaining that “not much is said about Nigeria in France.”
“We speak very little about Nigeria in France, certainly not enough, and when we do it’s about Boko Haram and the problems of violence and security,” the interviewer said. “I would like to take advantage of your presence for us to talk about other things and things that we don’t know about your country.”
Many Nigerians on social media mistakenly thought the interviewer was asking if there were libraries in the country because of the use of the French word “librairie,” which means bookstore.
And to think the journalist doubled down on this ridiculous question with: Oh in France, we don’t know very much about Nigeria. When we hear Nigeria we think about boko haram and violence and security. Tell us something different.
But then, even though we have libraries, the culture around the use of library here is a lot different from that of Europe. And it’s not because we do not like to read.
One French commentator said the line of questioning was a “cocktail of racism and mediocrity” that was typical of French journalism.
Adichie later posted a response on her Facebook page defending the journalist Caroline Broue as “Intelligent, thoughtful and well prepared,” during their wide-ranging conversation at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris.
She added that she was taken aback when the question was asked as it was “far below the intellectual register of her previous questions.”
“I know now that she was trying to be ironic… it was a genuine, if flat, attempt at irony and I wish she would not be publicly pilloried,” Adichie said.
The novelist also wrote in the same post: “To be asked to ‘tell French people that you have bookshops in Nigeria because they don’t know’ is to cater to a wilfully retrograde idea – that Africa is so apart, so pathologically ‘different,’ that a non-African cannot make reasonable assumptions about life there.”
Ahead of the event, the novelist had posted a picture of her meeting first lady Brigitte Macron in Paris on the steps of the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French president.
Adichie is an award-winning author, humanist and feminist. Her TEDxEuston speech “We Should All Be Feminists” was turned into a book and given to every 16-year-old in Sweden. Beyoncé also sampled it in her “Lemonade” album.
Adichie’s novel “Americanah” was also optioned by actress Lupita Nyong’o to make it into a film.