When I was asked for a story for the insurrection-themed issue of The Jewish Mexican Literary Review, I knew I wouldn’t be pulling punches. ‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ is my first story for 2017.
Here’s Americanah again, which I’ve lately been in conversation with:
“I have a Nigerian friend who is a writer. Do you know Kelechi Garuba?”
“I’ve read his work.”
“We talked about your blog the other day and he said he was sure the Non-American Black was a Caribbean because Africans don’t care about race. He’ll be shocked when he meets you!” Shan paused to exchange the leg on the table, leaning in to grasp her foot.
“He’s always fretting about how his books don’t do well. I’ve told him he needs to write terrible things about his own people if he wants to do well. He needs to say Africans alone are to blame for African problems, and Europeans have helped Africa more than they’ve hurt Africa, and he’ll be famous and people will say he’s so honest!”
In ‘Universe’ the narrator is a war orphan, adopted into the country that burned hers, raised to believe that it was the right thing: ‘That is a specific act of conquest, to make future generations glad for the scorching of our country, to make us believe that it is a boon to be uplifted from our own histories. Before long, we aspire to emulate those who turned our families into a casualty statistic. We become not people at all, but fogged mirrors.’
It’s a story about being queer in a society that hates you, a story about being owned by the people that destroyed yours, and it’s a story about life as resistance to your written destiny. It’s a little about subversive art, a bit about interracial adoption, a bit about how respectability politics will get you precisely this far: several notches below and several steps behind where you were hoping it’d get you. It’s a pretty angry story, and this isn’t something that I feel requires apologizing for. (Even then it is a story that is, perhaps, more optimistic than reality is given.)
It’s also a story where queer tragedy looms closer, more inevitable, than in any other of mine. But I prefer not to be a lazy writer.
I’m pleased that it’s part of an issue that is particularly about radical literature, with writers from such backgrounds that go beyond the accepted hegemony of American- or Britishness. Do give the entire issue a read.