AuthorsinAfrica brings this interview with Burundi born Lionel Ntasano, author of Greener on the Other Side.
Where are you from?
My family left Burundi (our home country) in 1986. I was only two years old. My father found a very promising job at the COMESA in Lusaka, Zambia, where we spent sixteen years of our lives. I never really spent time in my home country. We went there for holidays, visiting relatives and friends. We also travelled to many other countries for vacation (Zimbabwe, Zaire now known as DRC, Kenya, South Africa, France, Belgium, Holland and the U.S.A). I attended French International Schools, and a British system boarding school, sharing classes with kids from all over the globe. I attended university in the U.S.A, Kenya and Switzerland; almost quitting college to be a member of a music band. Thus I went into culinary school to feed my soul ultimately opening a small beach resort in my home town, Bujumbura in Burundi.
When and why did you begin writing?
When I decided to settle down in Burundi in 2011, I had to get accustomed to some of the inevitable living conditions, for instance, the numerous power cuts. I lived in a tiny apartment on the other side of town. I had already experienced the party life, the travelling and the heartbreaks. I was involved in a major hotel project and always came back home late, tired and confused. In the summer, the power cuts became more common. That is how I decided to write, I needed to make sense of what was happening in my life.
What message are you trying to put across?
The grass always looks greener elsewhere. All our lives, we dream of an elsewhere, another world richer than that in which we live. We want more, better, something else, in an eternal quest for the “Garden of Eden”. My novel examines the root of this elusive quest.
How did you come up with the title?
I was once told a story of a tall man who was crossing an empty road. As he reached the middle of the street, a car approached him at a high speed and was about to knock him down. In the heat of the moment, he spread his long legs and the car passed in between his legs. He looked up to the skies above, and thanked the heavens saying, “If I was short, I would have surely died.” Further up the same road, a really short man decided to cross the same street. As he reached the middle of the street, the same car approached him at a high speed and was about to run him over. In the heat of the moment, he ducked down and let the car pass over him, thanks to his small stature. He looked up to the skies above, and thanked the heavens saying, “If I was taller, I would have surely died.”
I have never forgotten this story even though I must have been eleven years old when I first heard it.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The moral perceptions and experiences I share in this book are delivered to the readers as a story. The protagonist, Nickolas Jordan is a fictional character – a product of my imagination. His life and the people he encounters in his different journeys are however based on some actual events – a mixture of all the numerous people I have had the privilege of meeting in my life so far.
Which character excites you most?
Nickolas, the future priest and protagonist, is then in his late teens, happy, well protected by his family and naïve. Suddenly, he loses his entire family to war (the massacre of Kibimba) while he was making his way to school. His life journey then takes him to New York, Paris, back to Burundi, then Nairobi, then back to New York through a series of human solidarity, where he leads brilliant studies in psychology and theology, parallel to his status as a writer. Through Nickolas’ eyes we meet different characters, each of whom seem to struggle with a particular vice. Nick is an impressively observant character, showing his virtue but also his pitfalls.
What one thing do you want the reader to remember forever?
Forgiveness heals everything. 🙂
For what audience is your book written?
After watching the rise in popularity of websites such as “humans of New York” I believe that my book will appeal to a wide range of people from around the world and of different ages. The title and theme of the book comes from a very popular philosophical question that intrigues every person on this earth. The hero in the story is not a typical hero who is strong physically, handsome, confident and supper intelligent. He is actually a priest, black and African. He is modest, confused and in search for a meaning to his life. In his search, he travels a lot.
Is this your first novel?
Yes, this is my first novel.
Do you want to write novels for the rest of your life?
The initial plan was to write three novels. I hope I find enough energy and the right state of mind to write more novels. I am currently writing a new book. It is a collection of fourteen powerful short stories that are thematically linked. The main them is Manhood. The fourteen stories transcend all the qualities, attributes and virtues expected in a man. The book is titled – Still Waters Run Deep
What is your writing process?
I read a lot, especially in the evenings. That is when I take notes or write down ideas or theories. I sleep on it and wake up at around 5am and develop the idea or the theory. I do that for about three months until all the ideas and theories simmer and linger in my mind, soul and unconsciousness until it all sticks together. That is when I seriously write.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Always write down the most honest story – write your truth and the readers will connect. Secondly, writing is such a lonely activity; always find a way to socialize without judging.
What books have influenced your life the most?
Animal Farm – Georges Orwell
1984 – Georges Orwell
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
The Autobiography of Malcom X – Alex Haley
The 33 Strategies of War – Robert Greene
The Black Swan: The Impact of the highly improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The World As I See It – Albert Einstein
Gifted Hands – Ben Carson
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