When 24-year-old Jessica Kehinde Ngo decided to research and write about the meaning of her middle name for her master’s degree graduation thesis, she had unsuspectingly embarked on a journey to discover her fascinating Yoruba tribal heritage in Nigeria. The USC graduate student and identical twin learned that all twins in her culture have preordained names – the firstborn is called ‘Taiwo’ or ‘The Taster of the World,’ and the second twin is called ‘Kehinde’ or ‘The Late Arrival.’
The first generation Nigerian-American admits that she initially had a scant knowledge of her roots.
“My dad didn’t talk much about it. There were snippets of things about when he grew up there, but that’s it,” Ngo says.
As she scoured for more information, she soon realized that the Yoruba tribe is still a largely unexplored subject. Ngo recalled her surprise when she found out a twin-study expert in Irvine was unaware of the Yoruba twins, despite the tribe having the highest twinning rate in the world.
“I thought it is my job to write about it,” she says. The thesis then evolved to become Ngo’s upcoming debut book, Second Twin, First Twin.
Ngo is confident that her book will find a large audience base. She says that many people are fascinated with the twinning phenomenon, pointing out that there are many famous twins such as Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Ngo also believes the book will educate people about Nigerian traditions and superstitions surrounding twins.
“People there worship twins!” she says. Ngo, however, adds that the book should not be pigeonholed as merely that.
“It’s also about the experience of coming of age, having a sibling as your best friend and your rival,” she says.
Her enthusiasm and optimism had helped her to finish writing this challenging book. Ngo had constantly worried that her twin sister would be offended because she is depicted as a domineering character who would oftentimes take advantage of Ngo’s weaker personality.
“In the story, my twin is the antagonist, and it’s like she’s the horrible person,” she says. Ngo continually suppressed the convulsion to censor herself as she struggled to keep her voice honest.
“My sister read it, and she said I make her look witty. She likes the book,” Ngo says.
Ngo’s writing style emulates the short chapter structure reminiscent of her favorite book, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Favoring quick reads, Ngo confesses to being intimidated of reading long chapters and big books, as she grew up unaccustomed to reading.
The resulting format is also due to her writing in bursts of inspirations. Originally writing independent short stories, Ngo acknowledges her tendency to focus on writing smart little lines and characters.
“It’s not so much about the plot or the organization. Then I realize the readers need to hold on to something they care about throughout the book. So I tie them all together later,” she says.
With her quirky writing habit, Ngo is surprised she could finish a book. Since junior high school, the aspiring writer had not written any published articles until now. Gaining more confidence after her first book release, Ngo plans on writing short stories and poems with similar themes for her next project.
Second Twin, First Twin is currently available. For more information, visit secondtwinfirsttwin.com.
Article posted on 8/17/2009
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