Aida Edemariam Meet the Author


Download Subtitles

SRT

ASS


Aida Edemariam

Jim Naughtie talks to journalist Aida Edemariam about The Wife's Tale, a memoir of the writer's Ethiopian grandmother and her experiences over the course of 100 years.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to Aida Edemariam. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

One of the people seem to be

targeted in that particular attack!

0:00:010:00:06

Now it's time for Meet The Author.

0:00:060:00:07

Aida Edemariam has written

an unusual biography -

0:00:070:00:09

a rich and engrossing story

of a woman of whom none

0:00:090:00:12

of her readers will ever have heard.

0:00:120:00:14

The Wife's Tale is the story

of her own grandmother,

0:00:140:00:17

born 100 years ago, and a picture

of her country, Ethiopia.

0:00:170:00:21

It reads beautifully,

as if it's told in her voice,

0:00:210:00:24

a book that will take you gently

and unforgettably

0:00:240:00:26

into another world.

0:00:260:00:28

Welcome.

0:00:280:00:38

What was the quality of this story,

the potential in this story,

0:00:480:00:52

that convinced you that people

who had never known your grandmother

0:00:520:00:56

and have never been to Ethiopia

would want to read it?

0:00:560:01:00

It was listening to her,

it was listening to her language,

0:01:000:01:03

her words, her stories.

0:01:030:01:06

I kind of knew that they would

translate quite well into English

0:01:060:01:10

and that they would work.

0:01:110:01:15

You spoke to her and recorded

her over a long period.

0:01:150:01:19

I mean, not continuously,

but you heard her talking.

0:01:190:01:22

And what's striking

about the book is that,

0:01:220:01:23

although it's narrated by you,

it's told by you, the rhythms

0:01:230:01:27

and cadences of her language,

the poetry of her language,

0:01:270:01:32

the simple poetry of normal day

speech, really comes through,

0:01:320:01:35

and that's what's alluring about it.

0:01:350:01:37

And that's really

what convinced you?

0:01:370:01:40

Yes, it really did.

0:01:400:01:43

There are a couple of things.

0:01:430:01:44

One of them is it's

an oral tradition.

0:01:440:01:47

She didn't read until

she was in her 60s.

0:01:470:01:52

In an oral tradition, stories

are remembered and told again.

0:01:520:01:55

In Ethiopia, the effect

and the skill with which you tell

0:01:550:01:58

a story is really important.

0:01:580:02:00

The other thing that's obvious

to anyone who approaches

0:02:000:02:03

the book is, of course,

that it's set in a country which has

0:02:030:02:06

gone through huge convulsions

in the century of the life that

0:02:060:02:14

you mentioned -

she died five years ago.

0:02:140:02:16

Let's just go through

that because the world

0:02:160:02:19

that she grew up in -

there was going to be a fascist

0:02:190:02:22

invasion, there were going to be

various political upheavals,

0:02:220:02:25

the Haile Selassie years

that we all remember, and,

0:02:250:02:28

I suppose, to the current generation

at home, the famines

0:02:280:02:32

in the Horn of Africa,

which have been such a crisis.

0:02:320:02:37

So it was always going

to be a troubled life.

0:02:370:02:41

Yes, but there's always pockets

of joy and, for her, dancing.

0:02:410:02:46

And you tell stories and you find

little pockets where you can

0:02:460:02:48

chat and enjoy things.

0:02:480:02:50

In a way, it's a story

of perseverance and survival.

0:02:500:02:53

It is, and those big things happen

to ordinary people, and history's

0:02:530:02:58

lived by ordinary people.

0:02:580:03:00

And I guess that's one of the things

I was trying to get across.

0:03:000:03:03

You talk about the fact

that your grandmother didn't learn

0:03:030:03:05

to read until she was in her 60s.

0:03:050:03:07

Can you really imagine

what life was like for her

0:03:070:03:11

when she was a teenager,

when she was in her 20s?

0:03:110:03:14

Do you find it easy to picture?

0:03:140:03:16

It took a while.

0:03:160:03:24

I had maybe 60 hours of tape.

0:03:240:03:26

I listened, and then I went away

and read lots in the British Library

0:03:260:03:31

and read accounts of daily life,

and then I went back

0:03:310:03:34

and listened again.

0:03:340:03:37

When you've got that lairing,

you can start imagine just the sort

0:03:370:03:43

the sort of warp and weft of it.

0:03:430:03:45

Because it's quite clear, in the way

she must have talked to you,

0:03:450:03:48

that the descriptive richness

of it was considerable -

0:03:480:03:51

I mean, the plants,

the animals, the sky and so on.

0:03:510:03:55

She was like that.

0:03:560:03:57

The way she described

cooking, for example,

0:03:570:03:59

it was incredibly detailed.

0:04:000:04:03

So there's a sort of party that

happened every year, it was massive,

0:04:030:04:06

and it took up a lot of her life.

0:04:060:04:09

So the drama would be

in describing how you make meat.

0:04:090:04:13

That was where it was located

and therefore I had to try

0:04:130:04:16

and recreate that somehow.

0:04:160:04:19

And, also, the shocks to daily life

that came about from political

0:04:190:04:24

events that were sometimes

really very distant.

0:04:240:04:28

They are distant, but they always

have ripples, and sometimes

0:04:280:04:33

quite unexpected ripples.

0:04:330:04:37

And, I guess, that was kind

of what I was trying to catch,

0:04:370:04:41

it was one of the things that,

you know, she might be distant but,

0:04:410:04:44

another moment, she'd be very close,

like very close to the Emperor -

0:04:440:04:47

trying to petition him, for example.

0:04:470:04:48

So you are talking about a world

that we can only know

0:04:480:04:51

in our imaginations.

0:04:510:04:52

And yet, what you've been able

to do, from these conversations,

0:04:520:04:55

I think, is to create something

which is very real.

0:04:550:05:00

I mean, you can smell the food.

0:05:000:05:02

I grew up there.

0:05:020:05:07

Your father's Ethiopian,

your mother is Canadian.

0:05:070:05:10

With the food, the food continued.

0:05:100:05:13

In rural Ethiopia, the life

is not that different,

0:05:130:05:16

necessarily, that it was,

you know, 100 years ago,

0:05:160:05:20

1,000 years ago, even.

0:05:200:05:25

It was almost an excuse to go back

to my childhood and get the feel

0:05:250:05:30

and smell and touch of things.

0:05:300:05:33

People will come to conclusions

about your grandmother

0:05:330:05:35

as they read the book,

but what's your assessment of how

0:05:350:05:39

she felt about her youth

and about the circumstances

0:05:390:05:43

of her growing up?

0:05:430:05:44

Because it seems that she

was a person of great

0:05:440:05:47

calm and few regrets.

0:05:470:05:50

Is that fair?

0:05:500:05:52

I think, when stuff happens

to you so early, and when it

0:05:520:05:55

happens across the culture,

there is an acceptance of it

0:05:550:06:00

and an unquestioning of it.

0:06:000:06:02

So any questions came much later.

0:06:020:06:05

I think she regretted not having

been able to read and some

0:06:050:06:09

of the opportunities that she might

have had, but she would also say,

0:06:090:06:13

well, that was the way it was.

0:06:130:06:15

It's very, very touching when,

at the end, you come

0:06:150:06:18

to her death and, more

to the point, her burial.

0:06:180:06:21

It was obviously a very

moving experience for you.

0:06:210:06:24

It was.

0:06:240:06:25

I'd never been to a funeral

of somebody I knew before,

0:06:250:06:28

apart from anything else.

0:06:280:06:29

It's very visceral.

0:06:290:06:33

And I think Irish culture does

something similar where grieving

0:06:330:06:36

is very much allowed and expected,

but there are systems.

0:06:360:06:42

She was buried by the church

into which she was married.

0:06:420:06:47

And there's a procession,

and the priests are

0:06:470:06:51

in their full regalia.

0:06:510:06:56

And the whole town,

basically, sees her pass.

0:06:560:06:58

One of the things, finally, that

I think is striking about the book -

0:06:580:07:01

you've kept yourself out

of it almost entirely.

0:07:010:07:03

Why?

0:07:030:07:04

It wasn't about me.

0:07:040:07:05

It's about somebody

who is very different to me.

0:07:050:07:08

And, I think, you can

show your working, as it were,

0:07:080:07:10

but then you just get in the way.

0:07:100:07:13

And if I had put myself

into it more, I would have

0:07:130:07:15

been explaining it.

0:07:150:07:16

And I just wanted it to exist

absolutely on its own terms

0:07:160:07:19

and to come off the page

on its own terms.

0:07:190:07:22

That's an interesting answer.

0:07:220:07:23

And, because of your conversations,

you felt you could render it

0:07:230:07:25

faithfully as it were,

without your intervention.

0:07:250:07:28

I hope so, yes.

0:07:280:07:30

Aida Edemariam, author

of The Wife's Tale,

0:07:300:07:33

thank you very much.

0:07:330:07:34

Thank you.

0:07:340:07:44