We have recently read “In Every Mirror She’s Black” for a wonderful multicultural book club I’m a part of and we have had the greatest honor of hosting the author, Lola Akinmade Åkerström in a live interview in the group.
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I met Lola during a travel blogging conference in Sweden, where she was a keynote speaker. Lola has already published “Lagom. The Swedish Secret of Living Well,” available in 18 foreign language editions, as well as award-winning “Due North: A Collection of Travel Observations, Reflections, And Snapshots Across Colors,” and her highly successful bestselling novel called, “In Every Mirror She’s Black,” is available on Amazon right now.
I’m glad to be sharing this interview – edited for length and clarity – on MKB today.
On growing up in Nigeria, the US and living in Sweden
I grew up in Nigeria and then I moved to the US to start college. And then sixteen years ago I met a Swedish man and that’s how I ended up on Sweden. I also consider myself American because I spent my formative years in the US and I consider myself Nigerian-American because I’m also naturalized there. I’m still trying to feel Swedish. But I’m not there yet.
On the inspiration behind “In Every Mirror She’s Black”
I started looking closer to my life, my experiences. How does it feel like to be a Black woman in the Nordics?
There were three themes I wanted to address. I wanted to address career, class and culture, and so those three themes came first before the characters. And I was able to create Kemi to address career, Brittany to address class, and Muna to address culture.
But there’s still a missing link. They are Black women and something has to bring them to Sweden. What would bring a Black woman to the Nordics is usually love. Or the second big reason is actually as a refugee. And then another reason would maybe a job transfer, or a study abroad program.
This is why Jonny’s character was crucial. Because if I hadn’t put him in there, there’s no reason for them to go.
On her main characters
People said I must be Kemi because I’m Nigerian-American, a career woman, but we’re very different people. I’ve had similar experiences being in very white rooms and was able to translate that feeling into Kemi.
Brittany was the most difficult one for me to write because we have very different values. All she wants in life is to be taken care of, and it’s fine and I wanted to create space for that.
For Jonny, what I wanted to do was to create somebody that was a product of the system. I wanted to create a character that thinks he’s doing good but he’s actually not.
On the difference between being Black in the US and being Black in Europe
In the US, the big difference is we talk about issues. When you have such conversations, you acknowledge the problem exists. You may not agree on how to fix it but the problem exists. But Europe does not really see color. So, we can’t really discuss these issues, more so in the Nordics where things are usually swept under the rug or these are cultures that are not really confrontational, they just don’t like anything that’s uncomfortable.
In the US, I can self-actualize like Oprah. I don’t have to be agreeable, but I can still thrive in a different way than in Europe. And the definition of thriving can be different. In Europe, or in the Nordics, I could live a quiet life in a village by the lake, it’s beautiful and pristine, nobody disturbs me. But that’s it. That’s my bubble. But what if my meaning of thriving is to become the CEO of IKEA?
On having three POV characters
Just putting the three characters side by side gives perspective. It also shows the multi-dimensionality of being a Black woman. And also gives them individuality. Because that’s a privilege which a lot of Black people don’t get. So, by putting them side by side, I wanted that to be very clear that if Brittany makes a mistake, you don’t think oh, Kemi will make the same mistake, or Muna will make the same mistake. You know that if Kemi does something, she is not representing Muna.
On doing research for the book
I spent two years with refugees at an asylum center, visiting the asylum center, working on a photo project with people like Muna and Ahmed. So I got to hear their stories. I got to spend time with them, look into their eyes, take their portraits. I can’t live here in Sweden, and not use my platform to share these voices because these are also valid stories and voices of the fabric of this country.
In reactions to the book
The book is a bestseller in the US. It’s popular among a lot of Swedish people and marginalized Swedes and Black Swedes. It’s a book that makes people feel seen but Swedish publishers don’t want to take it because it would make many readers uncomfortable.
Even though I speak the language and I’ve been here many years, I’m still considered an outsider. One of the publishers specifically mentioned this too. So that’s the reaction. It’s opening people’s eyes, and letting them say, oh wow, I didn’t know that. So for centuries, for decades, imagine not seeing yourself reflected back on TV, in books, in films, as a marginalized person. Representation really matters because you see yourself in these characters.
About the ending
The way I came up with the ending was because the characters led me there. Once you know your characters, you see them as real people and you know these are the decisions they will make. And you just naturally follow where the characters guide you. They all have their own characteristics, so you know where they will go.
On the sequel
The sequel, without giving too much away, it’s pretty much following how Brittany-Rae un-traps herself from one of the country’s most powerful men. So how is she going to do it? Is she even going to be able to do it?
My favorite character is a Turkish man called Yagiz, who is married to Yasmiin. He’s Muna’s boss, and her roommate’s boyfriend. I liked him so much that in the second book which I’ve written, I wanted him to show up and have more space as well. Yasmiin will be the third woman we’ll follow. It’s coming out in October.
On the title
The title works because all the three women are so different but that’s the first thing you see.
Whether it’s Muna in her hijab, people already have a stereotype about being Muslim. Brittany, skinny, tall, beautiful. People are already thinking, is she an escort? And Kemi, being career-driven, is she bitchy and difficult? But that’s kind of what the title means. And the flip side of that is for them to wear their skin comfortably. Blackness is power and being a Black woman is very powerful.
Lola’s novel, “In Every Mirror She’s Black” is already available on Amazon and everywhere books are sold.
The sequel, “Everything is Not Enough,” comes out in October this year and is already available for pre-order.
Please consider supporting Lola by pre-ordering her book or buying her novel and leaving her a review on Amazon or Goodreads.