Dele Weds Destiny Tracks Female Friendship Over Time – Chicago Magazine

Currently living in Brooklyn and working as an associate culture editor at BuzzFeed News, Tomi Obaro has ties to Windy City. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she also worked in Chicago Readerand served as associate editor at Chicago magazine for about three years. In his first novel, Dele marries destinyreleased in June with Knopf, the Nigerian-American author tells the intertwined stories of Enitan, Zainab and Funmi, unlikely friends who bonded while attending university in Zaria.

Tomi Obaro Photo by Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

Thirty years after this period of indivisible intimacy – decades during which they led decidedly different lives – the three women reunite in Lagos for the wedding of Funmi’s daughter, Destiny. As they travel and prepare for the lavish celebration, they reflect on their shared and separate stories and dreams, their betrayals and loyalties. By the time of the novel’s surprising climax, Obaro delivered an intense and incidentally rich exploration of friendship, culture, class, and love.

How did you decide to tell the story using a rotating point of view, letting the reader see the events through each of the eyes of the “trio”? What does it allow you to do that a single perspective wouldn’t?

It was mostly an organic decision for me; I knew I wanted to write from the perspective of Enitan, Funmi, and Zainab as soon as I thought of the characters. And writing from multiple perspectives is inherently more interesting for me too; there’s more room for my imagination when I don’t feel limited to just one character.

You open the book with pictures of food – “they’re eating something out of frame, pounded yam, maybe, or maybe eba” – and cooking features prominently throughout. I love how it both situates the reader in Nigerian culture and how it makes me imagine book clubs serving some of the dishes at their meetings. When book clubs discuss this story, what do you most hope they talk about and why?

I have no set expectations; I just hope it sparks a lot of conversation!

You say early on that women are “essentially sisters” and that seems to be one of the most crucial motives. Why focus so keenly on friendship and this notion of metaphorical brotherhood?

I’ve always been drawn to novels about lasting friendships and their evolution over time. And I was also inspired by the relationship my mother has with her two best friends. I also thought it would be fun to structure the book around a wedding, but have the heart of the novel really focus on friendships – as opposed to romantic love, which gets disproportionate attention.

The various mother-daughter relationships between these women are often strained, and you show how younger women are sometimes better able to get support and advice from older women who aren’t necessarily related by blood. How did you manage to write so convincingly about youth and middle age, and about these intergenerational dynamics?

Thanks for thinking I made it! I really tried to write from a place of empathy for each character, even though the portrayals might seem a bit unflattering.

What other novels or novelists did you draw inspiration from while writing?

I researched domestic fiction by African women writers. I read the semi-autobiographical novel by Buchi Emecheta second-class citizen and Mariama Ba’s Such a long letter, for example. Both of these books are brutally honest about the reality of being a woman in the times they are set and both authors wrote later in life, which I personally found inspiring.

How long did it take you to write this novel, and how did you reconcile your obligations as a publisher with your own creative project?

I started writing it in the summer of 2019 and finished in the spring of 2020. In the beginning, I was very motivated and just wrote when and where I could; on my phone on the train, after work and before work. Then, after that first initial adrenaline rush, I had to force myself to be more disciplined about it. But because editing isn’t writing, it was pretty easy to juggle the two. I didn’t feel like I was using the same part of my brain when I was writing in the morning.

You describe Lagos in loving but critical detail, painting an image of the city as a physical space, but also as an emblem of energy and vitality, of class inequality and resentment, of beauty and abjection. Has the city always been so important in the book to the point where it’s almost as important and realistic as the characters?

Yes, I knew Lagos would fit in the book. It’s such a chaotic place and it felt natural to place parts of the book there.

What’s next, if you can tell?

I’m working on a novel that’s mostly set in Chicago, actually!

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