Hadiza Isma El-Rufai is the founder of the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation. In this interview, she talks about her novel, An Abundance of Scorpions, the One Read Book of the Month for February 2021.
One Read: Your novel, An Abundance of Scorpions, is the One Read Book of the Month for February 2021. How do you feel about this?
Hadiza El-Rufai: I feel very happy. I want as many people as possible to have access to the book and this is a great way of achieving that.
What role do you think reading played in your becoming a writer?
Growing up, I was a veritable bookworm. But as time went by, I lost that passion. However, in 2008, I took up reading fiction again and remembered how much I used to enjoy it. I decided to try my hand at writing. So, reading played a huge role.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for writing An Abundance of Scorpions?
Many years ago, I used to be involved in an orphanage in Abuja. Each time I visited I’d see the babies that had been abandoned and brought in. I used to wonder about who they really were—that is, their ethnic identities and the religions of their biological parents. I used to marvel at the fact that they could become someone else completely depending on who got to adopt them. I decided to write about such a child.
In brief, what would you say have been the reader-responses to the book since its publication?
I’d say that the book has been well-received. I’ve got a lot of good reviews.
Which excerpts of the book do you tend to read to audiences, and why?
I tend to read excerpts from the beginning, after the accident that changed the protagonist’s life forever. That is because I want the audience to immediately identify and sympathise with her.
The novel takes a brief but significant detour to Ghana. How did you sketch out this part of the novel for the reader?
I first wrote that part using my imagination and with the help of Google Maps. But I wanted it to be authentic, so I took a trip to Ghana and I was glad I did. I visited Zongo, where the Hausa people live, and as a result of that visit I revised that chapter because many things were not as I had imagined.
This is a tale is one of love, loss, hope and survival. In this time of the Coronavirus, a timeof loss and grieving, would you agree that there are lessons to be drawn from Tambaya’s story?
Yes, indeed. Bad times come, but they don’t last forever. The important thing is the attitude we take. We need to be proactive and take our destiny in our hands. So, in this time of Covid-19, wear a mask, keep social distance and get vaccinated if you get the chance.
You referenced Jane Eyre quite a bit in the novel. Charlotte Bronte’s classic is clearly a major influence.
Yes. I first read Jane Eyre as a teenager and it made a great impression on me. Since then, I’ve reread it many times, discovering more treasures each time.
Your novel delves quite a bit into the subject of adoption and its attendant processes and rigours in Nigeria. Is there a message you would like to pass on to society about adoption, and orphanages?
There are too many abandoned babies growing up in orphanages, which is not ideal. Even though some of these orphanages are well-run, children need much more than food and clothes to thrive. They need parental love and a chance to be part of a family structure. And, as an adoptive parent myself, I can say that the benefits are both ways. My children give me so much joy.
What is your current reading? And what are you working on?
I’m currently reading Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Interestingly, this is a novel that was inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and tells the backstory of Bertha Antoinette Mason, the mad woman that was locked up in the attic at Thornfield Hall. I belong to a book club and this happens to be our choice for this month. I’m working on The Orphan Boy (working title), the sequel to An Abundance of Scorpions. It tells the story of Farouk as a young man.
An Abundance of Scorpions is published in Nigeria by Ouida Books and is available to purchase in bookstores.