I’m on the shore of Lagos Lagoon with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on a late afternoon in January. It is harmattan season, when a hot wind blows across the Sahara, bringing dust that makes the sun glow dark gold as it hangs over the palm trees on the opposite shore. Adichie, in a neat-waisted patterned dress and teetering lavender heels that are utterly unsuited to the sandy ground, is about to pose for Vogue’s photographer; but as we climb out of her car she asks me what I think of Lagos. She has just discovered that this is my first visit to Africa – and she’s thrilled that my baptism takes place in her native Nigeria ("Not bloody Kenya!" she said, laughing, as we drove). What can I say? That I’m overwhelmed: by the pell-mell energy of the place, the urge to get on, to get ahead that you can feel in every encounter. But I’m overwhelmed, too, by the way in which, in the space of a single day, I’ve been drawn into the embrace of Adichie’s life here, eating her food, meeting her parents, laughing with her friends, lounging on her sofa, talking about feminism, literature, our favourite TV shows, the fact that we both adore orange nail polish and are thrilled to discover we happen to be wearing the very same shade on our toes. Snap!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was 26 when she published her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The books that followed, Half of a Yellow Sun – set during the Biafran conflict in Nigeria, a decade before she was born – and Americanah, a modern love story set between America and Nigeria, have also been garlanded with international prizes and critical praise. Salman Rushdie remembers meeting her at a PEN literary festival in New York, not long after Purple Hibiscus was published: “She did a one-on-one conversation with Michael Ondaatje in a packed auditorium at Hunter College. At that time she was just out of the egg, so to speak, and it was plain that she hugely admired Ondaatje, but what was so striking was her own confidence and authority. She very much held her own, and spoke fluently and powerfully, and all of us there that day could see that someone very remarkable had just arrived. A star is born, I remember thinking, and so it was.”