with this rainy feeling of being alone again i just finished the last line of segun afolabi’s ‘goodbye lucille’, an intelligent and beautiful novel about the life and times of vincent, a photographer from elsewhere managing the quotidian in west berlin. for some days now i have been wandering kreuzberg’s street with him, the expat nigerian hanging in berlin 1985, the segregated city, despising him for his unawareness of politics, his feeding habits, the imagined stickiness of his apartment, the stale odours, at the same time attracted by his clumsy, neglecting way of loving and forgetting, his eclectic habitus of shagging, swimming and occasionally doing his job, being an artist after all. this book shares all the features of a catchy, easy read – murder, sex, girls, ex-marine trans-folks, family quarrels, dying romances and blooming ones, an addicted mother hiding booze on the balcony, inquisitive landlords, tabloid journalism, drama – but it is much more, and i regret not having met afolabi’s prose before.
here we are, in the city of strangeness, berlin, and we learn to read its ways anew – the diaspora-histories, the clubs, the fear, the small glories, the never-money-till-the-next-job-lifestyle, the negotiations -all that cultural studies-talk in real life. not sepia, it’s bright; and when vincent says about this new girl in his life – “she stumbled occasionally in a pair of knee-high red boots, as if she had never worn them before. i liked it when she dressed this way. trashy.” (191) we believe him, as well as we feel the rolling fat he describes when describing his acts of love-making, we see what is there, and all this lifestyle that is not style but real, raw, and if we’re honest that’s what it is.
the subtleness of this piece of writing is its deepness: the very honest negotiations of what it means to search for a home that has not been there, and that won’t be, at least not as in the big-scale-pictures, it’s too complex for the cover print. and the shyness, like spring, of a hint of sense of somthing one could, in lack of other terms, call belonging. hear vincent say that “i thought…maybe we could try at something – life, you and me” (310) and feel his longing for a family that was smashed to pieces in a car accident, the misunderstandings of the adolescent, the remorse for and acceptance of lost years. this book whispers love from every page, and it does it in a way we only come to realize afterwards (as all smart lovers do), when thinking about the window-jump of the asylum-seeker as we are walking our streets. visiting nigeria, a place only called home, listen to vincent uttering unsettled when seeing missionaries at work: “‘but it’s the eighties.’, i said, ‘i didn’t know that still happened.'” (268) (and this is an indeed ironic line on the day the berliner konferenz counts 125 years of having had influence).
having all this in mind – it’s not the eighties, it’s 2010 and all of it still happens. yet for a closure i want to keep aside the missionaries and their random tasks, but focus on the brighter, on the soulful acts: the routes of us as we are, the crashing and flying dreams, the dirty sheets and the mornings with that taste in your mouth, and – and this now really is cultural studies-talk, but some true one – our plain agency in these webs we are constantly spinning and are trapped in, sober or high, if we like it or not.
go and read this man!