SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Siblings love, disparage, look out for and cover up for one another all of their lives. But how do you love or cover up for a sister who kills her boyfriends and then develops a fixation for a man whom you long to love? Do you tip him off? Do you stop your sister? Or do you stand back? That's the plot at the heart of a dark comedy enlivened by a deadpan wit by the Nigerian novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite. Her book is "My Sister, The Serial Killer."
And Oyinkan Braithwaite, who was a 2016 finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, joins us from Lagos, Nigeria. Thanks so much for being with us.
OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE: Thank you.
SIMON: That's quite a premise for a book.
BRAITHWAITE: Yes (laughter).
SIMON: Well, tell us about these two sisters. There's Korede, who is the older one.
SIMON: She's a nurse. She's steady, meticulous, reliable. Does this kind of sentence her to a lifetime of cleaning up for her younger sister?
BRAITHWAITE: You know, the two of them - in my mind, they're sort of two sides of the same coin, and - because, you know, with family, you often find yourself playing set roles. And I think this is what happens to Korede and Ayoola. They both play their parts.
Because Ayoola is a certain type of way, Korede becomes a certain kind of way. And because Korede is a certain kind of way, Ayoola is frozen in this place where she is used to being protected, and she's used to behaving very much like a child.
SIMON: We learn, of course, later in the novel that she has - not that this excuses anything, but she has had her moments of confrontation, challenge and suffering in life.
BRAITHWAITE: Yes, yes, definitely. And they are both affected by it.
SIMON: Yeah. Does covering up for her sister wind up making Korede as - and I'm speaking in the moral sense, not the legal sense - but make her as guilty as her sister of murder?
BRAITHWAITE: I'm a bit hesitant about asking this because I think when writing it, I, you know, I tried my best not to impose my own beliefs on the story - to sort of just present it as it is. But I think that if Korede wasn't there to cover up her crimes, Ayoola wouldn't be able to continue committing them.
BRAITHWAITE: You know, she does - without meaning to, I think she does encourage Ayoola. And then, you know, towards the end, she accepts things the way that they are.
SIMON: We discover that Korede may be covering up for her sister now because she felt that maybe she missed the chance to do that when they were younger. Is that a fair way to put it?
BRAITHWAITE: I think so. But I also think, in many ways, she did protect Ayoola, even when they were younger. I think she protects Ayoola so much because she can't imagine a reality where she doesn't.
You know, it's a huge - especially here in Nigeria, being the first born is a huge, huge role. It's a huge responsibility. It's a big deal. You're treated - from the get-go, you're treated differently. You know, there's a kind of proverb here. I'm not sure what language it's in, but where they say, the eldest child is the one that opened the womb. I think even a lot of people have spoken to me about oh, yes, they're an older sibling and they understand what Korede was going through. So I think a lot of people do feel this sense of responsibility for their younger one.
And I think, also, once you've kind of - once you've done something once, it becomes easier to do it again and again. So Korede protects Ayoola the first time, and it becomes easier for her to keep on doing that, even though the crimes are grotesque.
SIMON: (Laughter) In the acknowledgements, I read a line. You acknowledge the contribution of Obafunke Braithwaite...
SIMON: ...Someone you call a pain, but.
SIMON: Can we know the story?
BRAITHWAITE: So I have three siblings - two sisters and one brother. They're all younger than me, and they're all annoying. And - but she is the one who's right after me. She's two years younger than me. And...
SIMON: I thought it was a sister. But go ahead. Yes?
BRAITHWAITE: Yes (laughter). She's two years younger than me, and she drives - we drive each other around the bend. You know, growing up together, there were so many times when it would baffle me. Like, did we come from the same place? How is it that we have the same parents? We're so different. So I do think that the relationship between siblings is definitely an interesting one.
SIMON: Is Nigerian literature going through a kind of flowering in the world now - more people discovering it, enjoying it?
BRAITHWAITE: I think Nigerian literature's always been - you know, coming out of Africa has always been quite popular. What I see happening is I see people experimenting more, which, you know, I'm really grateful for, you know, because I think Nigeria has been known for literary fiction quite a bit. But now we're seeing a lot more sci-fi. We're seeing a lot more crime. We're seeing - you know, we're seeing fantasy. We're seeing all sorts of things that - not that they weren't there before, but they weren't there in these numbers. So it's definitely an exciting time.
SIMON: Oyinkan Braithwaite - her novel "My Sister, The Serial "Killer." Thanks so much for being with us.
BRAITHWAITE: Thank you.
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