An ancient story of the Assante tribe tells of the marriage of the Ghanaian princess Yaa, but in Love in colors Yaa is a socialite who is a childhood sweetheart unfaithful. Egyptian Queen Nefertiti has been described as a lesbian femme fatale in stiletto heels, and Naleli, an old Lesotho legend, is a schoolboy with a skin condition who is in love with the captain of the athletics team. Mythical stories from Africa have found a place in the debut of the British-Nigerian author Bolu Babalola (31), but also stories from Persia, China and Mesopotamia. Babalola draws folk tales from their patriarchal past and transforms them into modern love stories starring colored women.
Dressed in an orange crop top, with perfectly groomed nails and casually fastened hair, Bolu Babalola walks out of the elevator of a monumental building on the Keizersgracht for the interview. She became a famous tweeter when she photoshopped herself as a boyfriend with actor Michael B. Jordan (more than 20,000 retweets and 134,000 likes in five days). In addition to sharp reflections on the millennial culture on social media, Babalola writes novels and TV scripts for BBC† Love in Color (2020), her debut novel, became one Sunday Times Bestseller† Last month she was in Amsterdam due to the publication of the Dutch translation of her book.
As she sits down, Babalola quickly gets to the point: Love in colors is a tribute to the stories that have ended up on the sidelines of history. “Colonialism has robbed us of our language, our stories – it’s a form of dehumanization,” said Babalola, who was born in London to Nigerian parents. “It makes me sad because it’s just stories that tell a people’s story.”
The book has ten retellings of folk tales and three original stories. Love in colors started as an idea from Babalola’s publisher. But she did not want to write down the original stories arbitrarily without adjustments. Folk tales, wherever they come from. is without exception “patriarchal and masochistic,” she says. “In these stories, the women are flattened and at the mercy of the male desires. no way that I would retell them this way. I had to make them feminist with the woman at the center. ”
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The main characters in Love in colors† is both Beauty and the Beast. They are strong personalities with their own thoughts, desires and feelings. Sometimes they are stubborn, sometimes they are burdened by deep insecurity. They choose who they want to love and in what way. Take Siya, based on an ancient legend about the Soninke people of West Africa. In the original tale, Siya is a helpless young lady who is rescued by army officer Maadi. In Babalola’s story, the lovers must save each other. Now Siya is the commander, armed with bow and arrow. “I’m sorry to have to do this,” the enemy says as he finds out he has to duel a woman, “you looked so pretty on your back.” Siya tilts her head and replies, “You also want to look beautiful on your back. Lifeless.”
Babalola regrets that romance in books or movies is often dismissed as trivial or frivolous. She describes herself as a lover of love and a ‘rom connoisseur’. Her absolute favorite is the romantic comedy When Harry met Sally† ”Of course there is something frivolous about love, but it is also serious and deep; something that determines many of our actions. “She went in search of forgotten myths and legends from which she could distill rich love stories. The search for love is prevalent in every story: how difficult it is to find or hold on to.
It was not easy to trace these forgotten myths. Most of the stories in the book have a rich oral tradition, but few are written down in writing. In his searches, Babalola found blogs where passionate amateurs wrote down the stories that their grandmothers used to tell that they heard from their grandmothers.
“In each repetition, central themes return with minor deviations. It’s the art of translating stories: each person puts their own spin on it. That premise made it easier to Love in colors writing. This is my perspective on the stories, my version. That way, my story becomes part of a long storytelling story. ”
In many stories, women are flattened and at the mercy of male lusts. no way that I would retell them this way
One thing was for sure from the start: black female readers had to recognize themselves as the main character. Precisely because Babalola did not often see herself represented in the stories she grew up with. †friends is one of my favorite TV series, but I did not see myself again. But it’s about a group of friends, so I can relate to that. ” And so, she says, white people in Europe might as well appreciate stories set in a different culture than theirs. “You can always recognize yourself in humanity. No matter how different we are, there is an element in every story where you can recognize yourself, as a person, as a woman. ”
In his youth, Babalola became acquainted with the stories of the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Disney. “In European love stories, there is a specific picture of who deserves love. One has to look a certain way. Blond hair, blue eyes. Stories like Snow White use the whiteness of her skin to describe her beauty. “She received the most touching reactions from colored women who said they felt seen for the first time and that they, too, deserve romance.
Of the ten retellings in Love in colors six come from Africa. “But Africa is not the only place affected by colonialism, nor is it the only place with stories overshadowed by European narratives,” Babalola says. She did extensive research into the stories of the different cultures. She asked her friends from different parts of the world for small details (such as an Iranian friend: “What do you eat on a Sunday?”), Looked at pictures of architecture and had each story read by so-called sensitivity readers, experts of the relevant cultures. . All to prevent her version from failing to do justice to the rich tradition of the stories.
Love in colors end with the love story of Babalola’s parents. The story revolves around a Nigerian prince and princess worshiping each other, it is a tribute to their relationship. “My parents are really best friends, it is a relationship based on equality, respect and partnership. Only now do I realize how rare it is, not only for their generation, but also for mine. Their relationship set the standard for me: I would never date someone who treats me worse than my father treats my mother. And he worships the earth she walks on. ”
She hopes that the stories of love with different narrative forms, time periods and genres seem binding. “We are united by stories of power, love and desire. And because of the hope of happy endings. “