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When We Speak of Nothing

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  254 ratings  ·  29 reviews
"Some of the women walked so slow they were, like, floating. For real. Heads perfectly straight. Hips swaying, left, slow, right, slow, step, slow. If you didn't concentrate you would think they weren't moving at all, their bodies just hanging in space..."

Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across L
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 3rd 2017 by Cassava Republic Press
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Eric Anderson
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Back in 2011 when riots flared up in England, I remember riding home late at night on a bus that had to be diverted because Brixton was in chaos. Everyone on that bus was charged up with the news scrolling through their phones and checking social media for bits of information. It's interesting how when any major events like this happen in our local areas now a collective conversation occurs, but only within our circumscribed social groups and rarely with people we're actually sitting next to on ...more
The Book Banque
Sep 11, 2017 rated it liked it
To be young, a person of colour and in search of a concrete identity are major concerns of Olumide Popoola’s debut novel - When We Speak of Nothing. Set in a council estate in the borough of Kings Cross in central London and simultaneously in the oil rich city of Port Harcourt, this novel is a story about two boys - best friends discovering that there is a distinct difference between having an individual voice and, making oneself heard.

Abubakar (Abu) and Karl are in the heart of working clas
Dec 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Explicit about trans* sex - this bit is very much appreciated.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
the scope of is so wide, (London, Nigeria, corruption, London riots, growing up as trans, chronic illness) but at its heart it's a beautiful macro story of two boys learning how to take care of one another. If you like character-driven stories I highly recommend! ...more
den her bog har en de fineste skildringer af en transkønnet karakter, jeg har set.
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, book-club
One of the benefits of joining a book club is that you will be surprised by a book. This book was a complete unknown to me and hit my surprise nerve more than once.

To describe it requires some careful grammar and clear writing: it's a book written by a German-Nigerian woman living in London. She writes about best friends Abu and Karl living in council housing, navigating school and bullies and girls along side their personal challenges. The challenges are mostly for Karl. He more or less lives w
Two friends so close they are like twins. One who never stops talking. The other who never stops running. In the summer before their eighteenth birthdays, their lives pull them in different directions. Karl flies to Nigeria in search of a father he never knew existed. Abu stays behind, in a London about to explode into riots.

Port Harcourt gives Karl a chance to be himself, free of other people’s assumptions. In company of new friends, he learns how oil companies are despoiling the landscape whil
Dan Squire
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
I went into reading this novel with high hopes - the fact that it supposedly centred around the Mark Duggan killing made me want to read it this year in particular. There were enough interesting themes there that it should have been very readable. But I was disappointed.

The writing style was horrible to read. 250+ pages of staccato short sentences. Constant full stops. No two bits of information together. Never flowed. Bad. Tough to read. Perhaps trying stream of consciousness. Not successful. S
Mar 28, 2017 marked it as dnf
I didn't get past the first few pages before I decided to put this down for now. I may try again another time.

Trigger Warnings (view spoiler)
Muna Mangue
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it
It's a raw, current story based on the lives of two brothers who live in London. United before a society that discriminates against them for racial and sexual reasons.

This novel makes us see how difficult it can be to live in a world that excludes you because it is different. If you are impatient you are not ready to read this book because the beginning of it is quite slow, but it will improve throughout the chapters, since it becomes more interesting when one of the protanists decides and ventu
Angela Kelly
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
This novel has to go in the category of 'very well written but not my thing.' I enjoyed the sections of the book where Karl was in Nigeria, as I always like to learn more about other countries and Popoola writes in such a way that the setting really comes alive.

Reading this novel reminded me of the many Booker Prize nominated books I have read. The prose is dense and filled with urban slang; furthermore it is written in a stream of consciousness which makes it difficult to put down and pick up a
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mary Adeson
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: glbt, 2018-read
It took me almost two thirds of the book to really settle into the characters, Abu and Karl. But this could be Popoola's intention as in reality it isn't easy to connect with a lost soul or someone trying to find themselves.

I expected more from this book, particularly with Karl's character given he had chosen Nigeria to develop his transgender identity. A country where LGBT persons face legal and social challenges not experienced by non-LGBT's.

This is a book which provides an insight from the p
Biggaletta Day
Mar 10, 2022 rated it it was amazing
The author appears to have written this as part of her doctoral thesis so explains the style. So in terms of creativity, I'm giving it a 5 star. This is a book written for prose, and from the writer's passion and instinct rather than thinking of the market, however in terms of commercial writing probably a 3 or 2 star.

It took me a while to get into and when l did it flowed well. Basically about youth and gender identity. Nice twist at the very end.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not quite what I was expecting in terms of LGBTI struggles in Nigeria and perhaps needing a bit more elaboration on some very interesting characters, this is still a beautiful and fresh read, a coming-of-age story that will warm hearts and restore faith in humanity. One needs to be quite acquainted, however, with the 2011 London riots to get a full grasp of the background against which one of the storylines develops. I also missed some more depth around Shell activities in Nigeria, but I guess t ...more
When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola is a raw story about two best friends forming their identities in London and Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

I enjoyed it and yet I didn't. This was in the Young Adult section of the library so perhaps it wasn't intended for me 😉. But I couldn't resist picking up a novel published by @cassavarepublicpress and one with such a striking cover.

I liked how the LGBT identity and experience was handled and I liked the use of slang, pidgin and dialect.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a slim novel at 256 pages, but it’s absolutely bursting with vibrant themes. Best-friendship, parent-child relationships, first love, race, class, and trans identity are just a few of these. Popoola has previously written against the belief that queer identity is a “Western” idea, and she continues to follow this thread in When We Speak of Nothing, refusing to capitulate to the single narrative of Nigeria that we get in the media. The novel probably could have been longer to further expl ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't often enjoy the whole stream of consciousness style, but it's tight and carefully crafted here so you never get lost along the way and I love it. It does what it's supposed to do, put you right in the place of these guys as they go through their lives and get thrown into disconcerting new stuff, without info-dumping or talking down to the reader. ...more
Lamar Latrell
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, fiction
This book was absolutely amazing. I didn’t know anything about it when I started: it’s a coming of age story about a young man from London with roots in Nigeria who goes to Nigeria to find his father, and, as expected in such a story, finds much more. But more than that, it’s about the people around him and what makes a relationship work and what destroys a relationship.
Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
'When we speak of nothing, we don't end the silence' this is one of the many lines that have started with me since I read this book. I loved how it normalises queerness. A story of family, friend, and love. I enjoyed reading this book so much. ...more
Jun 11, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully crafted and uplifting book with real friendship, struggle, learning and transformation. The language is gorgeous. I just finished and I already miss it!
Fred Langridge
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
A great, complex coming-of-age novel with gripping character-level plots and very relevant politics.
Brittany | BookRamblings
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: diverse
Loved the plot and issues it touched on but struggled a bit with the writing style.
Uchenna (favourite_igbo_boy)
When we speak of nothing is a coming of age novel written in prose which basically shows us, what it means to be young, black multicultural and queer.⁣

Firstly, the primary reason I picked up this book was because of the LGBTQ+ genre. Absolutely didn't know what to expect but I did had high hopes for it.⁣

With themes centering around friendship, queerness, racism, love, multiculturalism, masculinity and socio-economic issues. It turns out the expectations weren't met in this read. I can't exactl
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Read from the Queer Book Box subscription.

Hugely powerful book that upends the "typical" coming of age story usually told about queer immigrants and about inner city violence. I particularly loved the way the different families which rally around Karl and Abu are portrayed. This is as much a story about finding your way in a world that doesn't cater for you, be it due to race, or gender or sexual orientation or disability or whatever. The section on the riots with Karl in relative safely in Nige
Sal Kat Wright
Feb 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: texts
I am simply in awe. This book is the most hard-hitting and engaging tales I've read in a good while. The writing is so elegant and lyrical, that it sucks you right into the story of two best friends. I read it in one sitting and I sobbed. A beautiful story that touched me deeply. It will stay with me. ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books I just find myself randomly thinking about from time to time. The voice just stuck in my brain. I don’t think I’ll ever get it out, and I’m perfectly okay with that.
Nicole Jolley
rated it liked it
Dec 14, 2018
Annie Holmes
rated it it was amazing
Jul 10, 2017
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London-based Nigerian-German Olumide Popoola is a writer, speaker and performer.
Her publications include essays, poetry, the novella this is not about sadness (Unrast, 2010), the play text Also by Mail (edition assemblage, 2013), the short collection breach, which she co-authored with Annie Holmes (Peirene Press, 2016), as well as recordings in collaboration with musicians.
In 2004 she won the Ma

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