Many years ago, a friend lent me the novel Soul Tourists by an author I had never heard of before. But since Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize for Girl, Woman, Other (along with Margaret Atwood for The Testaments) in 2019, she is no longer an insider’s tip, but rather the talk of the town. In her latest book, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, the author reflects on her career. And what can I say? Bernardine Evaristo knows her craft, and she knows how to present herself and her work in an extremely likeable way. Manifesto is a book that radiates good humour and gives readers the feeling of being allowed to get a little closer to this strong, confident writer. I particularly like the structure of the book, which is not chronological like most autobiographies, but thematic: there are chapters on her family history, the places she’s lived, her romantic relationships with women and men, theatre, activism, etc. The central thread is the question of Evaristo’s life. The guiding thread is the development of Evaristo’s creativity, how her work evolved and finally brought her the success she wanted at the age of 60.
But Bernardine Evaristo’s good-humoured, powerful narrative voice does not pretend that the road to success was easy. She grew up in London in the 1960s and 70s as the daughter of a white Englishwoman and a Black Nigerian, and this union was not socially accepted at the time – not even by Evaristo’s white grandparents. Looking back, Evaristo says she recognised her outsider status early in life. Often, she and her seven siblings were the only non-white people in their environment: at school, in youth theatre, at church, etc. Evaristo chose to embrace this status and often it served as a starting point for her political art. Against all odds, Evaristo has stayed on the ball. She emphasises that only her own disciplined and confident attitude to her work made the creation of her books possible. Evaristo seems to have been ahead of her time, because she began practicing affirmation and manifestation years ago – a practice based on one’s own conviction to succeed, which has become exceedingly popular since the beginning of the Corona pandemic at the latest. The way Evaristo presents herself as a colourful personality who breaks all conventions and achieves a lot by doing so makes me smile, but less benevolent readers could interpret this as a certain self-satisfaction. Self-portrayals always walk a fine line, especially when it comes to famous people.
The represented stages of her life explain how Evaristo arrived at her manifesto: alongside the large family she grew up with, her wild 20s were shaped by feminism and her relationships with women. The manifesto is actually only one and a half pages long. This short text presents her beliefs about creativity, partnerships, and society. Evaristo succinctly summarises how she goes through the world as a writer and it sounds rousing, better than it often is. Rallying cry more than affirmation.
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