Lara is a powerful semi-autobiographical novel-in-verse based on Bernardine Evaristo's own childhood and family history. The eponymous Lara is a mixed-race girl raised in Woolwich, a white suburb of London, during the 60s and 70s. Her father, Taiwo, is Nigerian, and her mother, Ellen, is white British. They marry in the 1950s, in spite of fierce opposition from Ellen's family, and quickly produce eight children in ten years. Lara is their fourth child and we follow her journey from restricted childhood to conflicted early adulthood, and then from London to Nigeria to Brazil as she seeks to understand herself and her ancestry. The novel travels back over 150 years, seven generations and three continents of Lara's ancestry. It is the story of Irish Catholics leaving generations of rural hardship behind and ascending to a rigid middle class in England; of German immigrants escaping poverty and seeking to build a new life in 19th century London; and of proud Yorubas enslaved in Brazil, free in colonial Nigeria and hopeful in post-war London. Lara explores the lives of those who leave one country in search of a better life elsewhere, but who end up struggling to be accepted even as they lay the foundations for their children and future generations. This is a new edition of Bernardine Evaristo's first novel Lara, rewritten and expanded by a third since its first publication in 1997.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Bernardine Evaristo’s Inside Story: “I call Lara a semi-autobiographical novel because some it is very much based in the reality of my family history and my own experiences as a child. But some of it is completely fictionalised. I initially wrote it because I wanted to write about my parents’ marriage: a Nigerian man and a white English woman in the 1950s. Nobody had written that specific story.
“I spent three years working on it as a straightforward prose novel and it just didn’t work. My background had been in poetry and I just could not write prose that came off the page in the way that I could write poetry. The language was dead on the page. So after three years and 200 pages, I literally threw the manuscript away and decided to turn it into a verse novel. Actually, I was thinking of it as a narrative poem. My parents’ marriage suddenly came alive through the poetry and I became much more interested in the story I was telling—so I realised it could be a bigger story. It could become a story about my family history and my ancestry.
“There are actually two versions of Lara. The first was published in 1997 and was about my parents’ marriage and their childhoods, plus my childhood growing up in London and coming of age in the 1980s and ’90s. I then added a third more material to the book in 2009. I had initially been incredibly interested in my father’s heritage. I didn’t know anything about Nigeria, so went there as part of my research. I had no sense of a black history and black ancestry growing up in Woolwich—a very white part of London. But then, some 10 years later when I was looking to get the book republished, I decided to dig into my mother’s German and Irish ancestry. The book now spans 150 years and seven generations.
“It was a cathartic process writing this book because it was about my family. It was also, in part, about being mixed race, and feeling at some stages in my early life that I didn’t belong anywhere. By the end of the book, Lara fully embraces her identity and the multiplicity of it. That’s how I felt when I finished the book. It was a personal journey into my family history, but it was also a way in which I was able to sort out my own identity. Now, I am totally peace with it. I identify as a black woman, but within that, I am also a mixed race woman. Ultimately, though, I do identify as black and that is how I am perceived by the world. And I am very comfortable with that.”