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.

 

 

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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

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani: I Do Not Come to You by Chance

This book, the first novel from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, is hilarious, with moments of pathos, and a fresh point of view.

Amazon.com recommended it to me as I was busy buying books by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; I thought ‘OK, I’ll read a series of Nigerian books as part of my summer reading.

Young Kingsley Ibe is the family’s first born male, and with that status goes many privileges – and responsibilities. After graduating with a Masters in Chemical Engineering, he has no success in his search for a job with an oil company in Nigeria, and consequently loses the love of his life, Ola, to another who has secure employment.

Worse, his retired father has a stroke, and the family discovers that with all the fees required, they haven’t enough for his continued care, so Kingsley must approach his uncle, Boniface Mbamalu, more familiarly known as Cash Daddy, for funds to transfer his father to a long term care facility, and, later, for his father’s funeral.

Serious Kingsley’s eyes nearly pop as he sees the life his uncle is living, cars, women, designer watches, shoes, suits and all the trappings of new wealth. Soon, his uncle makes a convincing case for Kingsley coming to work for him, the better to help out his family of mother, brothers and sister, now that he is the senior male in the family.

Kingsley discovers he has a gift for the work – which is writing 419s, those scam letters which I frequently publish in this column. I loved being on the inside, learning how strong possibility e-mail addresses are netted, how response e-mails are massaged – not unlike fund raising techniques by charitable organizations in the US. Kingsley’s education helps him achieve enormous financial success in a very short time – but he finds that all the cash and designer goods in the word do not solve his problems nor make him happy.

I learned a lot about how successful many of these scammers are, and how the money made is spread throughout the Nigerian communities. The author takes a balanced view, balancing the way the cash makes life easier for people – a lot of people, because the rich man has many obligations to his community, balanced against the disgust, and sick fear felt by his religious mother and aunt, and his one time girlfriend, when they learn the work he is doing. They are disappointed that a man of such promise has sunk to making so much money in a dishonest way. The book also does not deal sympathetically with those who have given or lost money to the scammers, nor, in my opinion, does the ending satisfy.

This is one of the funniest parts of the book – a group of Nigerian scammers is about to meet with a representative of a major US investment firm. He thinks he will be meeting with the Nigerian Minister of Transportation to discuss building a new airport; the reality is that Cash Daddy, in disguise, will be pretending to be the minister. Kingsley protests that Cash Daddy looks nothing like the minister, and Cash Daddy responds:

“Let me tell you something . . . Me, I really like these oyibo people. They’re very very nice people. See how they came and showed us that the ground where we’ve been dancing Atilogwu has crude oil under it. If not for them, we might never have found out. But Kings,” he dragged in his dangling foot and sat up in the tub, “white man doesn’t understand black man’s face. Do you know tht I can give you my passport to travel with . . . Even if your nose is ten times bigger than my own, they won’t even notice?”

It was a fascinating book. I understand better now why 419 scams work. (419 is the section of the Nigerian criminal code making scam e-mails a crime; thus the crime is called ‘a 419’) There are some very funny and very insightful moments in the book. It is no where near the level of literature that you experience with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but there is more humor, and the book shows a more modern day Nigeria. Not a bad summer read, but not great literature.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Africa, Books, Character, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Financial Issues, Fund Raising, Humor, Living Conditions, Scams, Work Related Issues | , , | 2 Comments