Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Describes the Nature of Truth in Fiction
The Mail & Guardian have published a piece by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the nature of truth in fiction. She describes an incident were she overheard a young Igbo woman in Abba exclaim “Fuck!” after falling, Adichie writes that if she were to include this in a story she imagines her readers not believing it, “But this particular Igbo girl did say “fuck”. And it was its singularity that made it interesting.”
Adichie describes writing real life events into her fiction and having readers respond that this would never really happen, she says that she doesn’t explain to them that it really did happen, as “if it is unbelievable then you, the writer, have failed at your art, which is to use language to achieve the suspension of belief.”
It was Christmas in Abba, my ancestral hometown. I was walking to my uncle’s house on a dirt road baked and cracked by the Harmattan. Ahead of me were two young women, perhaps 17, talking loudly. They were local; I could tell from their clothes, their rural Igbo dialect, their gait. Then one of them slipped and fell. “Fuck!” she said, in English. “Fuck!”
I almost stopped to ask if I had heard her correctly, it was the last exclamation I would have imagined coming out of her mouth. I expected “Ewo!” or “Jesus!” or, more fancifully, something else in Igbo, deep and authentic to my city ears. But she said “fuck”. I promptly pulled out the notebook I carry for moments of the unexpected, such as this; moments I might later mould into fiction. I am yet to use this incident in a story, but I can already imagine a potential reader saying: “I don’t believe an Igbo village girl would say ‘fuck!’” — a reasonable protest. But this particular Igbo girl did say “fuck”. And it was its singularity that made it interesting.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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