Elnathan John Portrait
© Hartwig Klappert

Guest 2017.


An einem Dienstag geboren


Heidelberg, 2017

[Ü: Susann Urban]

Elnathan John [ Nigeria, Germany ]

Elnathan John was born in Kaduna in northwestern Nigeria in 1982. He trained and worked as a lawyer until 2012, when he decided to write full-time.

John’s short stories have appeared in different publications, such as »Per Contra«, »ZAM Magazine« and »Sentinel Nigeria«. In 2013, his short story »Bayan Layi« was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Another of his stories, »Flying« (2015), also made it to that prize’s shortlist two years later. His first novel, »Born on a Tuesday« (2015), is a moving exploration of Islamic radicalization in northern Nigeria. Drawing on the story of young boys he grew up around, John developed a novel that spans the period from 2003 to the present. His protagonist, Dantala, is a young almajiri, an itinerant muslim scholar, in a fictional Nigerian town Bayan Layi, which can be loosely translated as »back streets« and which points to the marginal nature of the location. Instead of attending Quranic school, Dantala joins a gang given the task of carrying out an arson attack on the office of an opposition party. After the attack, Dantala flees from the police to the city of Sokoto, where he finds refuge in a mosque. Attracted by the charismatic Sheik Jamal, he ends up increasingly in the grip of that man’s movement as well as the radicalized elements within. Dantala experiences the confusion of first love, meets political ideologies head-on and has to decide who to fight for and what type of Muslim – and man – he wants to be. John’s debut is clearly a Bildungsroman; the fundamentalist group Boko Haram is not explicitly named, but the novel is a clear reference to real conditions in northern Nigeria and provides insights into its hermetic world. John wrote the novel in English, but the Hausa language is ever-present in the form of many quotations. The voices that dominate the events are garrulous, noisy and shaped by Islamist violence, and stand in sharp contrast to the silent female figures who articulate themselves primarily through body language. John uses a concise, direct form of speech that he adapts to each respective character; on the one hand, this allows the reader to experience the full brutality of events, on the other, however, he makes sure not to leave out humorous moments in his protagonists’ life. »Born on a Tuesday« made it to the shortlist of the NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature in 2016 as well as the shortlists of the Republic of Consciousness Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction all in 2017.

Elnathan John’s non fiction covers subjects including pastoralism, gender non-conformism in northern Nigeria, and political satire. He lives between Nigeria and Germany.