Centre first-years read story of love and turmoil with “In Dependence”
First-year students are now on Centre’s campus, and in the midst of many orientation activities, they will be discussing “In Dependence,” a novel by Sarah Ladipo Manyika that was selected as the first-year book.
At its core, the novel is a story about Tayo Ajayi and Vanessa Richardson, two college students who meet and fall in love at Oxford in 1963. Tayo is from Nigeria, while Vanessa is the daughter of an ex-colonial officer. And while the difficulties the two lovers face may seem distant from the typical Centre first-year experience, the book is highly relatable.
“The novel begins with its two main characters arriving at college and experiencing a range of fears, anxieties, thrills and excitements that most beginning college students — no matter where they are in the world — should be able to identify with,” Manyika says.
A faculty committee chose the book because of the many lessons it has to teach first-years as they begin their college experience.
“I think the novel brings up several important themes that we want students to be thinking about — the first one being how to navigate cultural differences,” says international studies professor Lori Hartmann-Mahmud. “In some examples in the book, there is definitely a clash of cultures between Tayo’s and Vanessa’s worlds, and in other cases one senses a more symbiotic relationship between different cultures. Students will be wrestling with that in their classes, when they travel and in their life on-campus in general as they confront the unfamiliar and learn to better understand others.”
Katie Smalley ’13, an Orientation Assistant, has found that the book is both relevant and relatable for Centre students.
“It’s easy for students to relate to the main character’s emotions about leaving home, meeting friends and finding his own path to independence. Also, there were several thought-provoking questions that are brought up in the book that also reflect the increasing globalization of our world,” Smalley says. “I think these questions are very relevant to the first-year students, giving them a more global perspective on their education and reflecting some of the values of the Centre College.”
Centre students are expected to be members of a global community, and “In Dependence” gives first-years many examples of interaction between international societies and peoples.
“‘In Dependence’ is set on three continents — Africa, Europe and America — and in this respect, students might be able to learn new things about the culture and history of places that are different to their own,” Manyika says.
The novel’s setting is also historically significant: Tayo and Vanessa begin their first year at Oxford in 1963, a year rife with turmoil and revolution.
“The book addresses race relations, both in personal relationships and in society, and deals with taboos and prejudice,” says Hartmann-Mahmud. “While we’ve come a long way since the 1960s in combating racism, it and other ‘isms’ still exist and demand our attention.”
“In Dependence” is also significant in its depiction of the tough decisions facing many Africans both in the past and the present.
“The book is about the difficulties elites in Africa, like Tayo, face in deciding whether to work in their countries of origin under very trying circumstances, or whether to take advantage of their internationally marketable skills to work in countries where they will have greater financial support and political freedom,” says history professor Rick Bradshaw. “These are only two of many themes this book explores, such as the nature of European colonialism and neocolonialism, independence and ongoing dependence, topics which college students will also explore in their classes.”
Manyika was deliberate in her attempt to portray a different side of Africa in this novel than is usually seen.
“When I wrote this novel, I was tired of all the negative images of Africa and was longing to read stories that showed the other side of the continent — a less sensational side that included love stories such as the one that I tried to write,” Manyika says. “One of my hopes for any reader of ‘In Dependence’ is that the reader might believe, at least a little, in love and have hope about Africa.”
Although there are many important facets to her novel, Manyika simply wants Centre first-years — and everyone else who reads her work — to feel a personal connection to the story.
“I want readers to enjoy ‘In Dependence’ in whatever way is most meaningful to them,” Manyika says. “I hope that my novel presents characters that are believable enough for readers to want to see through their eyes and put themselves in their situations as a way of better understanding some of the complexities of the world in which we live.”
Manyika will deliver a convocation address on campus on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Newlin Hall.