Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Front Room at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall is not exactly a room, but a roped off section of the foyer. The concept behind this may have been that those sharing the space standing at the bar or sitting at the surrounding tables might share in whatever event is on, by default, as it were. In practise, most people just carried on at “bar volume.” This was a real shame as Soyinka’s reading was superb, despite the background roaring hum, an extract from his escape from Nigeria:

The insides of my thighs ached. These were muscles that had never been subjected to an endurance test, and I marvelled yet again how the body so easily takes for granted every strand of muscle or ligament that makes it function, forgetting that some simply never come up for use in years, or decades. Even if I had been a chronic jogger, it would never have occurred to me to prepare the inner thighs for a ten-hour journey on a motor-cycle pillion. Three times I was compelled to ask my pilot to stop while I walked up and down, improvised exercises to regain circulation and loosen up the muscles as they were repeatedly assailed by severe cramps. They ached so badly that I began to fear that I might have done permanent damage to myself, some calamity such as uncontrollable muscle spasms in the future. As a hapless passenger, with nothing to do except stay glued to the seat of the motorcycle, the night passage was fertile ground for the direst imagining. In addition to three stops, I was thankful when we came to streams that had to be forded, or when we stopped to refuel the tank from the spare jerry-cans with which we were amply supplied. I was even thankful for spills in sudden marshes or loose soil. As we rode deeper into the forest, my face was steadily lashed by branches. My driver did his best to sound a warning as a branch loomed up round a corner and he ducked but, it was mostly pointless. I took vicious slashes, began to wonder if the branches were exacting vengeance for the nocturnal disturbance of the peace of the forest. I could hardly complain; my companion took far more whipping than I did.

Occasionally, we ran into night caravans of smugglers, strung out in a line, loads of every kind of merchandise on their heads...

Soyinka is a tall, striking man with a beautifully modulated voice. It really was a pleasure to hear him read. He will be appearing at both the Hay Festival later this month and the London Literature Festival in July.

Of course, I only met him briefly as he signed YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN, but he was charming. The American edition came out a year ago. This UK edition is published in collaboration with Bookcraft, Nigeria, and is about double the thickness of the US edition. Other than added appendices and index, I’m not sure if the text is any different.

The rest of the evening was spent with old friends and new - some lovely, lovely writerly people.



Blogger francofinn said...

Ah, so much bookish fun! Fancy going to see Anouar Brahem next week?

8:36 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Looks like we're going to have to pass on the music festival this time (too many musicians, too little time!), but see you soon at Hay!

11:33 am  

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