Q&A with Adams Adeosun, author of “A Natural History of Briefly Gorgeous Vegetables”
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Kosiso Ugwueze: I loved the relationship between father and son in “A Natural History of Briefly Gorgeous Vegetables.” I found it affecting, a father trying to pass on knowledge to his son but understanding the dangers of such knowledge. Did you plot this relationship in advance or did it materialize as you began to write? What, if anything, do you think is significant about father/son relationships, something that perhaps we do not always see?
Adams Adeosun: I like to think that stories occur in the friction between people, in the grating of one person’s reality against another, in the intersection of existences. And humans do find weird ways to intersect, even within conventional relationships. Father-son relationships, which you have singled out from A Natural History, for instance, are something I don’t find much in fiction (and reality for that matter). Where I find them, they are toxic. So I knew I wanted to do something that centered that kind of relationship. Of course, in the current iteration of the world, father-son relationships are definitive within families, a patriarchal gimmick perhaps, but a definitive one.
KU: In addition to father/son relationships, the story is also concerned with a ruthless government, one that takes from its people. It seems to argue that family, specifically the passing down of important family history, can serve as a form of resistance. What role do you think the family can play in authoritarian societies like the one you have depicted? Would you even describe the world of your story as authoritarian or would you call it something else?
AA: In A Natural History, I also wanted to examine the subtle ways in which a peoples’ government can double as their antagonist. Governments terrorizing their own citizens have never been a strange sight, if we are being honest. There is an uncanny, conniving, authoritarian government somewhere on the map at every point in history. However dysfunctional a family is, it is where we choose our weapons before we go out to face the world. Families outlive governments, they witness the evolution of a country, within them are embedded knowledge, generational grievances are passed down and legacies are sooner or later weaponized. Family is both the first and last stand against whatever evil takes root in the society.
KU: There’s a particular scene that captivated me in the story, the scene where the narrator and his friends are at play. The boys are taking turns wrestling one another, immersed in a familiar childhood world. I was taken by how ordinary this scene was especially given that the world of the story is anything but ordinary. How do you think childhood shapes this story and your other stories?
AA: Childhood is usually derided as a time of ignorance but I like to think otherwise. I believe children are a perfect reflection of society, fashioning games out of the things they encounter. I remember that as a child, I would watch a movie and go about trying to rehash the scenes in real-time. So, the seemingly ordinary scene you talk about, for example, is a commentary on the world of the story. It’s like, “Hey. Your children are so used to violence they fashion games out of it.” And indeed, how better to look at a world than through the eyes of its dreamers?
KU: The narrator is ultimately betrayed by one of his friends. But before the betrayal, the narrator’s father shows him a marvelous family secret, something that shocks the narrator into hyperventilation. The two scenes, the scene where the narrator encounters this family secret and the scene where he is betrayed seem to mark a sort of “growing up,” the end of innocence. What does it mean to you for a child to “grow up?” How do you think that changes in a totalitarian regime?
AA: It’s been a while since I abandoned childhood myself but I do remember that a child’s mind distorts facts to fit his image of the world. A lethal weapon in his hands would probably assume the shape of a familiar toy. But there is that point where the world nudges the child awake, where his interior world has to step back and he has to acknowledge the world around him — the scenes you have referenced, in the case of A Natural History’s narrator. In a totalitarian society like in the story, this “nudging awake” tend to happen way earlier and more forcefully than is healthy for both the individual and collective.
KU: The ending of the story is devastating. I felt the same sense of great loss that the narrator feels upon returning home from exile. I especially loved the line “the pain of losing a home isn’t much different from the pain of losing a lover.” Such an apt way to discuss something that millions of people have grappled with and continue to grapple with. Do you think it’s ever possible for people who have been exiled to truly return home even if they physically make it back like your narrator does?
AA: Home is a hard thing to discuss, especially in the context of exile. I’m not sure a true homecoming is possible for victims of exile. The point of home is a place to call your own and it may be hard to claim a place that already rejected you once as yours. Plus absence, even when momentary, has a way of robbing a place of warmth, comfort and familiarity.
Adams Adeosun is an alumni of Goethe-Institut/Saraba/Bakwa magazines’ Nigeria-Cameroon Literary Exchange workshops and Bookartarea’s writing masterclass. His work is published/forthcoming online in Litro UK, Catapult, Arts & Africa, Agbowo, Music in Africa, This is Africa, etc; and in print in Transition, Limbe to Lagos: Nonfiction from Cameroon and Nigeria. He was shortlisted for the Awele Creative Trust award in 2017.