Profile – Love and sex in Africa

2010-05-29 10:33

Ghanaian author

Lesley Lokko has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with South Africa. It began

in the pages of a book by South African writer Nadine Gordimer when she was 13.

“When I read July’s People, I remember the first paragraph

describes the servant in the house addressing his master. It says: ‘you like to

have some cup of tea?’ It was the first time I had ever seen African-accented

English in print! I didn’t know it was possible.

“Gordimer opened a window onto a world that I had assumed was

silent – and that is why I’m a writer today”, ­Lokko says with a smile.

Praise for Lokko describes her work as “sexy and intelligent,

glamorous, 21st-century page-turners”. Hers is ­romantic fiction with bite and –

the word that crops up all the time – intelligence.

Now scribing her sixth novel, Lokko has in less than a decade

established an international fan base of readers ranging from judges to

students. ­Although her main audience is European, her writing sensibility is

strongly rooted in the continent of her birth.

“I’m interested in creating pictures of a different Africa in my

work. I’m fascinated with the relationship between sex, race and identity. The

relationship between the sexes in Africa is complicated and modern life makes it

more so,” she says.

Raised in Ghana and living a life of constant shuttling between

Europe and the African continent has sharpened Lokko’s view of the matter.

As she speaks about her work, the passion with which she explores

the hot terrain of 21st-century sexual relations through her wordcraft becomes

seductive.

“There is a strong traditional relationship between the sexes that

is closer to the surface in Africa than it is in Europe or the US. You still see

very strong evidence of a traditional way of relating to each other.

“But modernity in Africa has changed that very rapidly and part of

the issue we haven’t yet had the time or resources to work out is how to

transition the demands modern life places on men and women”, Lokko says.

Incisive and balanced, the intelligent writing tag she has earned

is well deserved. Her storylines, a heady mix of sex, glamour, multi-layered

characters and dream locations, make her vision of a different Africa

compelling.

Reflecting on the minefield of sexuality issues prevalent in

Africa, she writes fiction that touches raw nerves in a deliciously accessible

way. Her choice to anchor Africa in her narratives is a courageous walk into

­unknown territory for international romantic fiction authors.

“For me it is very important not only to write about what I know

but to try to present Africa in a more complex light. People ask me if I

consider myself a black/African writer – I think those are generalities.

“I mean, what is Africa? What is black? I might write about Mali,

Senegal or even South Africa. All are countries with specific cultures, rituals

and ways of doing things. It is important to get into that in my writing.”

Lokko’s first novel, Sundowners – her biggest seller to date – is

about a cross-cultural, cross-racial relationship.

In Sundowners the male protagonist is the highly fictional son of

Nelson Mandela. The character is cosmopolitan and was educated and lived away

from home. To this day Lokko still gets fan mail from all over the world

rejoicing about how wonderful it is to read about a sexy, well-educated,

cosmopolitan and well-travelled African man.

Most of the comments come from readers who would never have

previously associated a romantic lead with a black African male.

Tackling a sexuality agenda from an African perspective is a

responsibility Lokko happily accepts.

“We are by and large a conservative continent, so I have to be

careful about the way I describe sex. I’m cognisant that what is pornographic in

one context may be just titillating in another. I keep my eye firmly on my

market, which is based in Europe. What we sell in Africa is equivalent to what

is sold in the UK in one day – so I have to think about the ­context of how sex

sells there and also how sex is seen in Africa. It’s complex, but I enjoy it

hugely,” she laughs.

Resident in the heart of Johannesburg, Lokko has put down roots in

South Africa once again – at least for now. With her fifth novel about to be

published, she is skilfully giving voice to a world that is seeking expression

in contemporary life.

In the fluidity of sexuality and cultural expression, Lokko is

resolutely unpacking stereotypes as she weaves a new hybrid fabric with words

that fire the imagination to explore sexuality and culture in modern-day

Africa.


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