"Stars in your Heart" - a Czech view of today's Nigeria

24-11-2003

Iva Pekarkova is one of the best known younger Czech novelists. You might have heard of her novel that appeared in English as "Gimme the Money", inspired by her experiences as a New York taxi driver. For her latest book, published last week, Iva has once again left the Czech Republic, this time for the huge West African state of Nigeria. Najdza - hvezdy v srdci" - stars in your heart - is a fascinating travelogue based on her African experience. She told David Vaughan how she came to write the book.

"My boyfriend now of almost two years is Nigerian. So when we were together for a little over a year, we decided to go and see not just Nigeria, but my relatives or future relatives there. So I was basically the daughter and sister-in-law, which was really lovely."

Tell me a little bit about the book. You intersperse your own experiences of Nigeria with all sorts of - some of them very comic - anecdotes and stories that people have told you on your travels.

"This was actually the contribution of the Lidove noviny publishing house, because they said: everybody's writing these very solemn books about Africa, why don't you make it funny? Why don't you intersperse it with little pieces of real life or whatever? I even collected some true Nigerian jokes. Then I interested myself in West African writers, who know much more about West Africa obviously than I do, and I borrowed some of their texts."

You're a novelist. Are we going to see in the next few months or years an Iva Pekarkova novel set in Nigeria?

"Well, definitely not. There are so many really good West African writers and Nigerian writers, that I wouldn't really dare to try and do the same thing that they have been doing for two or three generations. So I am definitely not going to even try."

You speak more or less perfect English. How did you get on with Nigerian English?

"I think it took me a couple of weeks to learn what they call 'broken' or 'Nigerian Pidgin English', and I really fell in love with it. You know it's really much better in your mouth than on a piece of paper, but still we did put together a little dictionary of Nigerian Pidgin with some of the phrases and stuff in it. I believe it's the first Nigerian Pidgin to Czech dictionary ever."

What's your favourite Nigerian expression or phrase?

"Well, there's one phrase I kind of like. This is 'Carry go', meaning: 'Please mister, take your problem - the one you brought over here - and just leave with it,' which I think is a very nice phrase, which kind of expresses what most people are like. You come and try to give them trouble - 'so please, just take your problem and go someplace else and I want to be happy.'"

24-11-2003