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Book reading: Bernadine Evaristo @ Soho Theatre, 25th March 09

Elizabeth Salmon

Writer Bernadine Evaristo, working in association with spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes, read an excerpt of her latest novel Blonde Roots, which is longlisted for the The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for Fiction 2009.

Hosted by writer Nick Makoha in an intimate studio at the Soho Theatre, the event got off to a relaxed start with Denise Saul reading poems from her anthology, White Narcissi. The evening continued to focus on poetry, with the percussive poetry of Huck Finn and Bohdan Piasecki critically acclaimed for Polish slam poetry.

After becoming used to the short bursts of attention grabbing poetry, the very long excerpt from Blonde Roots was hard to pay attention to. It may have worked better if the extracts were shorter and from different parts of the book in order to get a greater sense of the novel, as well as Evaristo’s narrative voice. Nevertheless, the excerpt illustrated the premise of the book very clearly; What if Africans had enslaved Europeans?

Bernadine read the character, Chief Katamba, who narrates in a Heart of Darkness style, of a journey into the ‘Grey Continent’ of Europa. The result is intelligent, imaginative, and a well-researched satire that is humorous in places with a bitter aftertaste.

Nick summed up the appeal of Blonde Roots by stating, “It makes you feel good about being black without making you feel bad about being white.” Like all good satire, Evaristo takes a long and hard look at what happens to our humanity regardless of race, when we abuse our power over others.

via 2009– Catch a Vibe.