If I’m allowed only one book in jail, I’ll take the Bible – Lavinia Frey

Lavinia Frey is the Festival Director of the Internationales Literatur Festival Berlin. She spoke to Toni Kan on the sidelines of the Ake Book and Arts Festival 2023 on her love for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, her abiding interest in the bible and how language is a door into new worlds. 

Toni Kan: Tell me your name please?

Lavinia Frey: Lavinia Frey

TK: And where are you from?

LF: I’m from Berlin

TK: So, what do you do in Berlin?

LF: I’m the festival director of the International Literature Festival, Berlin  

TK: Alright, so, this is for the ‘Lagos Review’, right, and we just look at people’s engagement with the arts. So you’re not a writer, you are a facilitator, right?

LF: Right

TK: So, what is your favourite book ever?

LF: Favourite book ever…actually, quite often my favourite book is the book I read just recently because I always fall in love –

TK: No, that is another question. That’s a different question. What is your favourite book ever? (General Laughter)

LF: I must admit that I think that is Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americanah’, really.

TK: Really?

LF: Really, it struck me a lot and I think it’s one of the books I was presenting as a gift the most in my life.

TK: Oh really, to people?

LF: (Laughs) I really did.

TK: Wow, cool, that’s nice, that’s nice. So why did you like it?

L: For the humour. I loved the humour and I loved the change of perspectives and the way of writing and the strengths of the woman. I loved it.

TK: Have you met her before?

LF: I met her in Berlin.

TK: Ah

LF: Uh, well afterwards. I took care that we invited her for the opening of the Humboldt Forum festival, where I was working beforehand.

TK: Oh, yeah. I remember that speech.

LF: And she did a fantastic and very strong speech

TK: Yeah

LF: I had said from the very beginning; we have to invite Chimamanda Adichie (Laughs). I love so many authors, especially contemporary ones and it’s a great privilege now doing this job, I can read more. I always write a lot. But because it is an international festival I’m really forced to read international literature.

TK: Yeah

LF: And what happens is that you always get a new perspective, a new word because language – I mean, of course I cant read all these languages, but we heard it today from Ayanna Lloyd Banwo.

TK: Ayanna Lloyd, yeah

LF: She said that for her its not mystical or hypothetical; its real, what she’s writing.

T: Hmmm

LF: And to have this different kind of…concept; language is another way of getting into the world and even though I read the translation, I can get the…

TK: You still get the spirit of it…

LF: Different kinds of worlds, and I think this is so enriching.

T: So, what was the last book you read?

LF: The last book I read? Actually, I am reading at the moment a book by Max Czollek, a German poet.

TK: How do you spell it?

LF: I’ll write it down for you.

TK: Max Czollek?

LF: Max Czollek, like this, yeah. He is a poet, actually  mainly, but this is more of a nonfiction book

TK: Okay

LF: But it’s still not the hard nonfiction book

TK: Hmm

LF: And it’s about the question; what would happen if Germany really dealt with their history.

TK: History, yeah

LF: And because he has a Jewish background and what does it mean?

TK: So okay, let’s say you’re…it’s not gonna happen but, let’s say you’re going to jail for ten years

LF: When…for what I will go to jail for?

TK: Nothing. Let’s just say you’re going to jail for ten years

LF: (Laughing) Okay

TK: Right. And you’re allowed to take one book

LF: Oh!

TK: What would it be?

LF: (Laughs)

TK: Just one

LF: Just one…well you know in the end I would take the Bible (Laughs)

TK: Yeah! (Laughs) So why why why why why?

LK: Yeah, because of course living in Europe and growing up in Europe, our culture…not all, but, the culture is quite deeply influenced by the stories of the Bible, and the way we are thinking even though we have many ways against and many disruptions in religion and everything but I think it’s a great book for stories.

TK: It’s got everything

LF: Mhmm

TK: Love, hate, war, sex, crime, everything.

LF: Exactly, exactly and you can read it and read it again.

TK: Yes, all over again and it’s new.

LF: And think new, and you know.

TK: So, this is your first time in Nigeria?

LF: Yes

TK: From what you’ve experienced these past two days, if I asked you; do you think Nigerians read what would be your answer?

LF: A lot

TK: You do?

LF: Yes

TK: You think so?

LF: Yeah, I mean the Nigerians I have met, I think read all the time (Laughs). Maybe, because  I was only at the festival.

TK: Yeah

LF: Could be (Laughs)

T: But you think they do. Thank you very much Lavinia.

L: That’s so much fun, thank you.

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