'Baby Love' Writer on Muse of 1st Novel

In her first novel, Ade, Rebecca Walker tells The Root she is revealing the true pain of a lost love.

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As a woman of color it was really important for me to be able to leave America and to leave the narrative of slavery and the tragic mulatto and to be in an environment where those stories were not the dominant stories. I got to be free in a way. Travel does that.

I think when Farida is in Cairo and Giza and she's going behind the Pyramids and meeting people in their very small, very modest homes, I lived that. It's very healing to connect with someone you don't know. It reaffirms our common humanity. And I think you get that from travel -- freedom -- freedom from your own ideas about yourself. You get bigger; you expand.

TR: Speaking of your main character, Farida, we never learn her name until she meets Adé. Why?

RW: I wanted that idea that her identity was part of what Adé gave her, to give her a name that was outside this other world. The only way to give that moment when he names her this magnitude was to take her other name away so that you really feel the depth of what he offers. It's the whole new definition of who she was.

The flipside of the gift is that originally she basks in her namelessness; she's open. And then he gives her the name and grounds her in the culture. It's a gift, but it's also a kind of limitation that's being put on her for the first time. There's a double-edged sword there.

TR: The idea of the double-edged sword also comes up when Farida has to unpack her feelings about Africa and whether or not she's been romanticizing it. Were you concerned at all with the idea of romanticizing Africa in the book as a whole?

 

RW: Yes, I obsessed about that. It's one of my greatest concerns with the book and with the experience. Farida's really struggling to come from a place of being conscious of that and refusing to do that. But it doesn't matter if you're mythologizing Africa as a place full of famine and war and tribalism or a place of pure potential for honest love -- you can still get caught up in that process. There was something about being there that made Farida feel like anything was possible, and that was her projection onto the place.

TR: Were there any other reservations about the setting of the book?

RW: My biggest fear is the trope of the noble savage, of the great other man that helps my main character have this transformation, and then she gets to go back to Japanese delivery on the Upper East Side. I definitely had that concern, but at the same time it is a story of redemption and of love that takes place in that environment. There is a truth in that that can't be denied. I hope I succeeded in avoiding the pitfalls.