Updated: Jan 23
This week we review Florence Olajide’s memoir ‘Coconut’ published in 2021 by Hachette UK.
Florence Olajide delivers a heartfelt and moving memoir having moved from carer to foster carer in England before settling down with "Nan" where she was clearly at home despite cultural differences. Although Nan fostered other children, the warm attachment shines through, with Nan offering plenty of hugs, “ tight ones, cuddly ones and pick you off the ground and swirl you around ones.” Olajide’s Yoruba parents later take her back before moving back to Lagos, cure more events in a day that could fill a week’s storytelling.
The various moments when growing up and adulthood are narrated with vulnerable openness punctuated by humour which keeps the reader glued to the unfolding events. Olajide remembers for instance when she disapproved of adult behaviours she later repeats in adulthood herself: assigning chores to children or the choice of meat portions to serve. One of her daughters notices, “Mummy, the older you get the more Nigerian you become.” I especially enjoyed the reversal of roles in the book, Olajide being specific about Yoruba norms but generalist about British idiosyncrasies. It is normally the other way round surely.
Courteous and always mending bridges, Olajide is not to be pushed to extremes, as the bigoted Heathrow immigration officer found out. This book captures the challenges of navigating opposing cultural divides, which Olajide eventually settles with some doubts in her mind but with unflinching certainty in her actions, such as not taking in long distance Nigerian relatives in her London home. Olajide shows us how to unify a living based on two cultures. Some things however can never be unified, which I suspect is encapsulated in the title: “Coconut.” Olajide’s story is a triumph of quiet determination and focus which leads her to raise two confident daughters and a son whilst rising to the top of the teaching profession in England.