For Sam Omatseye, the author of Crocodile Girl, which has been recently re-issued by Paresia Books, Nigeria, the novel is all about prejudice and how it can corrode the society.
Responding to question by Laura Angela Bagnetto of Radio France International on what inspired the work in a recent interview, Omatseye said: “The story of the Crocodile Girl was told to me by my father. There was actually a situation in his own village when he was growing up. There was a woman who was so beautiful, she could not be thought human. So, they said that at night she went into the river and became a crocodile, so that was the prejudice that was cast on the woman.
“So, that was where I took the story from. I was in the US when I started thinking about this novel, so I decided that I would use that material to track this prejudice and also look at African history and how prejudice even within African history, especially with slavery also affected relations between black and black as against white and black.”
Omatseye, who described Alero as a very interesting character, said he saw her as the fulcrum of the whole narrative. According to him, “She is the one who is beautiful and charming and she is the one who has to suffer because of her beauty, and she is the one who has a relationship with the white visitor, Tim, and she is the one who has to suffer because of that. The story of the prejudice is here. She simultaneously reflects it and she reflects on other people her own prejudice that she suffers.”
Situating the context of the narrative, Omatseye said, “In the olden days, there was prejudice within the black society, because, historically, people tend to want to glorify the African past like the white just came to Africa to pick slaves but there were people who were profiting from slavery and slave trade who were blacks who made it possible for the white to thrive. So, it was part of that narrative that I was trying to track.
“The other issue is beauty, because one of the main characters, Alero, is constantly told how beautiful she is but the fact that she is a nurse is disregarded and she is almost two dimensional, because people see her with her beauty or her curse as being the daughter of the crocodile woman. It defines her, which is really sad, because, obviously she has more depth than that.”
Shedding light on Tim, the American guy who comes to Orogun in Nigeria, the novelist explained: “Itse is the link between Alero and Tim and he is the reason that Alero allowed Tim to come to Africa, but, unfortunately, Ise is not able, because of what happened to him, to carry on and he becomes the background around which the narrative of Tim and Alero and how the whole story in the village, including the old man, takes off.”
Veteran is Omatseye’s favourite character, for “He is the liberator of the tale, he is the one that catalyses the narrative because it is on him that the story about how to get to the forest takes place and it was him that makes Tim get adjusted to the environment. It is he who can challenge the local elites, the traditional elites without consequences. So, it is around that man that the whole narrative hinges. He belongs to that generation and he is also a rebel to that generation.”
The author is working on another novel at the moment. :It has a sort of resemblance to this but it is quite a different story,” he said.