Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BOOKS! (Americanah)

After hearing so much buzz about this novel online and in bookstores in 2013 and 2014, I finally got a chance to read it! I was not disappointed, and for the sake of time I will not be able to do this book justice, but let's go ahead and get right to it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Ifemelu and Obinze are high school and college sweethearts who while at university make their own separate journeys to the west, she in New England and he in London. Though the novel alternates between the two lovers' points of view, most of it focuses on Ifemelu as she navigates more than a decade in America, gaining citizenship along the way and writing an enormously successful and fire-starting blog on race and blackness in America. The two young adults lose contact with each other, and  Ifemelu largely fares better in gaining security and legal status than Obinze does. But eventually they both return to Nigeria, finding refuge for their experiences abroad in each other as they the negotiate what will become of their relationship after so many years apart.

To put it simply, Americanah is part love story, part tale of two immigrants, part witty yet no-holds-barred treatise on race in America (and a little bit on immigration in Britian), and part ethnographic exposé of life and society in ever-transforming Lagos. After having read it, I wonder why Adichie chose to put all of that in one book; she could've easily written two with all the content, depictions, debate, and poeticism she fits in one. Considering the length of this novel (just short of 600 pages), it must have taken Adichie some long and arduous years to write this. Yet, published in 2013 (and read by yours truly in the transition between 2014 and 2015), the novel's content and references are so impressively contemporary. The internet, smart devices and texting,  the natual hair movement and its resulting online community, Obama's first election, the rise of blogging as a hobby/means of livelihood. It's all so current and shows how well Adichie has a pulse on social phenomena and trends.

And the character development! I didn't realize how much that mattered to me until last year, and Adichie executes hers seamlessly. In addition to Ifemelu and Obinze, you get a feel for nearly every secondary or minor character's story without it becoming jumbled and confusing. You know what kind of people they are, what their dreams were, what their flaws are, what social circles they're in, how they expect the world to be, their hardships, their pasts and how they've changed as people over time. Rather than just characters described on a page, they are living, breathing people! You might think, well duh, that's how it's supposed to be! However, novelists use their characters for different purposes depending on what they're trying to achieve. It's not always important that we know characters intimately, and even when we are meant to know them, some novelists miss the mark. But Americanah certainly isn't a miss for Adichie in this regard.

Lastly, I would like to get into her (or Ifemelu's) politics on race in America and Black/African identity, but it's just too rich, raw, and real! You need to read it for yourself because this lady speaks the truth and she's not afraid of stepping on toes or hurting feelings! I found that Americanah and Baratunde Thurston's How to Be Black speak to each other on numerous aspects, including the significance of and inflated hopes for Obama's election, things that white people (even many of our white liberal "friends") just will never get, and how resilient black people have had to be in order to defend and celebrate their right to be here and be themselves. If you are interested in race relations even in the slightest, Americanah is necessary reading!

Favorite quotes:
"all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty" (341).

"Racism should have never happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it" (378).

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