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Monday, 2 July 2012

Book Review: Simi Bedford's 'Yoruba Girl Dancing'


Yoruba Girl Dancing is Nigerian author Simi Bedford's debut novel published in 1991 (in the UK) and 1992 (in the US). It tells the story of Remi Foster, a girl from a very wealthy background living in Lagos, Nigeria post-WWII. Her grandfather was one of the richest men in Lagos, in their household they spoke 4 languages, and she was the most loved one by her granparents. When she turns 6, her grandfather sadly passes away and her father decides that Remi should go to the UK to be educated so that she can come serve her country once she's done. So begins Remi's new life. 

In Yoruba Girl Dancing we follow Remi from childhood to adulthood - from when she was 6 until about maybe 18 (as the books ends with her being in university). She gets sent to a posh boarding school in England where the uniform is 'nigger brown' and she has to cope with being told that the black will rub off of her and onto the other girls if they come close, and having to grapple with why people call sunny Lagos the 'dark continent' when the UK is so dark and gloomy. As she continues her life in the UK going from her posh barding school, to the working class English family she lives with in Thornton 'Eath (Thornoton Heath, a neighbourhood in South London), to another even more posh boarding school in the UK, to different homes of her father's missionary friends during the summer, Remi begins to see herself more as an Englishwoman than an African - after all she has spent more time in the UK than Nigeria. Even though she still faced discrimination - like as a child constantly playing the native in the Tarzan games, or when she went to a schooltrip in Germany and they asked her to describe Africa (even though she had been gone for years and hardly remembered a thing), or when a young man in Germany asked her if she was 'considered attractive in your own country?', or when her Literature A' Level teacher assumed she wouldn't be able to grasp Shakespeare and other great English writers/playwrights/poets (even though she had the highest grades in her Literature O'Levels class) - she still saw herself as English. As she got older she realised, all her posh barding school experience couldn't change the fact she was black and African. It ends with Remi Foster realising, there isn't a sight more beautiful than a Yoruba girl dancing. 

Remi is a highly intelligent (and curious) girl and from an early age learns to tell people what they want to hear in order to make her life more pleasurable. One thing I loved the most about Yoruba Girl Dancing, is that it was a story about a wealthy African family in post-WWII era. Although Remi's parents were absent for most of the book, coming from an upper-class Nigerian family her father's behaviour in public in England and his blissful ignorance towards his surroundings made me smile. 

This was a simple and enjoyable read about identity and cultural transformation. 

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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