Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah

americanah

 

“Ouch! Ouch, Chimanda! Stop!”

(Oh wait.)

Don’t stop.

 

It’s me who can’t stop. I read everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes. I only started reading her by accident, when I was facilitating the Kuwait Book Club I never intended to belong to, and found myself reading so many books by authors I had never heard of. We were reading Half Of a Yellow Sun  and all of a sudden, I WAS Nigerian. She can do that. She uses the senses, she uses the thoughts in our head. We are really not so alien, us and the Nigerians I start to think. I have Nigerian friends, from the church. We all get along. We have a good time together.

“Not so fast!” Chimamanda tells me in Americanah, her newest book, which I put off buying until I could find it in paperback. “You are very different! You think differently! And growing up in a country where there are black and white, race becomes an issue that it is not when you are black, and everyone is black, and you are growing up in Nigeria.”

Hmmm. OK. That makes sense. I mean, I thought I was Nigerian because in Half of a Yellow Sun, I was Igbo, living in an academic community in Nigeria, and hmmmm. You’re right, Chimamanda, there were no white people around. Just us Nigerians.

Chimamanda, with her sharp, all-seeing eyes, her sharp ears and her sharp tongue make me cringe as she comes to the USA and comes up against assumptions many have about Africa. Do you even know where, exactly, Nigeria is? Do you know where Ghana is? Most Americans can find Egypt on a map of Africa, and MAYBE South Africa, but the rest is  . . . mostly guesswork. Because we send clothing and food aid to African countries, we have the idea that all Africans are poor, but that is not so, and is insulting to the middle-class and upper class Africans who travel elsewhere for leisure – and education.

I don’t know how much of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book is autobiographical and how much is fiction. I know that her observations are acute, she nails expat friendships, she spotlights our blind spots and hypocricies, and she holds you in her grip because she is no less harsh with herself – if, indeed, her Ifemelu, the main character in Americanah, is reflecting Chimamanda’s own experience. The experiences, coming here, the overwhelming differences in manners and customs, even volume of voice and width of hand expression, are so immediate, so compelling, so well described that they have to have been experiences she herself had, and had the eyes to see. She must have taken notes, because she totally nails the expat experience.

Book ads and book reviews focus on Americanah as a book about being black in America, and it truly is that – as seen from the eyes of a non-American black, as she often reminds us.

She is hard on herself, returning to Nigeria, and quick to note that much of the change is in herself and her changed perspective. While I love the romantic storyline, I was disappointed by the fantasy ending, given how self-disciplined Adichie is at keeping it real in every other facet of the novel. On the other hand, I am still trying to think of an ending that would work for me, and I can’t. While her ending wraps it all up neatly, it’s the one part of the book where her sharpness dulls.

One of the things I liked best about the book was going behind the scenes, being Nigerian, going to school, having coffee, working, going to parties with other Nigerians, chatting with my girlfriends. We’ve done things with nationals of different countries before, but you know as soon as you walk in that your presence changes things. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes me with her and no one knows I am there, observing, learning, figuring out how things are done when it’s “just us” Nigerians.

Here’s why I am a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addict. She keeps it real. She has eyes that see, and ears that hear, and a gift for capturing what she sees and hears and a gift for writing it down. She has insight, into herself, into others, into character and motivations. She is sophisticated and unpretentious, she admires and she mocks, but when she mocks, it is as likely to be self-mockery as mockery of another person, class, ethnicity or nation. Reading Adichie, I understand our similarities – and our differences. I believe she would be a prickly friend to have, but I would chose her as a friend.

Awards

● Winner of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
● One of The New York Times’s Ten Best Books of the Year
● Winner of the The Chicago Tribune 2013 Heartland Prize for Fiction
● An NPR “Great Reads” Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle
Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick.

 

 

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Beauty, Books, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Fiction, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Nigeria, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , | 4 Comments