I never read the backs/ inside jacket covers of books before I read them. I typically trust the authors I have chosen to read* and/ or know what I’m getting into**. With movies, entering with that sort of freshness is hard what with trailers and movie reviews. With books, it is far easier; but with this book, it was far more difficult. So much press, almost every day it made my newsfeed. I made it though, it was only as I read it I knew what it was a bout. Perhaps there was no more fitting time for to read this novel, as I like Ifemelu (the protagonist) am on my way home, to be received no doubt, like an Americanah, or JCB (just.come.back).
A very general review, just shy of 500 pages, like Half of a Yellow Sun I thought it was too long. It could easily have been three shorter novels, or five novellas. I could have done without the 2008 presidential election, the white boyfriend, and maybe even the Black American boyfriend. That’s largely unlike Ifemelu these things have never interested me and/or I have no such parallels in my life.
There are a million things I could expound upon in my reading of this novel- love, corruption, choices, dreams, class, race, sex. For the attention span of readers (some of which I’ve already lost I’m sure) I pick three. Blogging, returning and loving.
Blogging. Would you believe Ifemelu’s a blogger? Blogging about race in America. Now for me the fantastical thing about this is that she seems to have made oodles of money off of this. As many a blogger well knows however that is a privilege afforded to few. I say privilege because meritocracy is not alive and well. For those of us who work, who go to school… it is incredibly hard to maintain blogs with quantity far less quality posts.* Though I’m not sure if intentionally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche was speaks to this directly by having her blog start up while she is dating an obscenely rich man who created an incredibly comfortable life for her. Thankfully, she continued working (at the job he got her) throughout the relationship. But I imagine writing must come more easily, when you’re whisked away to Paris for the weekend once a month. Shout out to blogging while brown and all the clever writers out there who don’t have time to hone their crafts.
Returning. In a few months I go home after a 12 year absence. I’ve visited throughout the years, so the return will not be shocking, but the adjustment is bound to take some time. One of the characters while at a dinner party in England is part of a conversation where white British people bemoan the woes of immigration. A clearly liberal participant says something to the effect of all people should be granted asylum, and be able to live free from terror, war etc. And my character thinks, what about fleeing the, “oppressive legarthy of choicelessness,” and being, “hungry for choice and certainty”.
Growing up middle-class in the Caribbean I have had many opportunities afforded to me. I did not have a nanny or a driver, but my parents have almost always employed a house-keeper. North America affords very few those forms of luxury. There is however the luxury in the certainty that electricity is unlikely to go out, that your car is not going to be damaged in a pot hole the size of a crater or that stores will open on time. That I think of as the luxury of being a middle-classed immigrant (with papers) in North America, that I know I will both be hungry for and miss.
The challenge in returning for me is to
- not immerse myself in a wining about how different things are
for too long. I can live (and must remember have lived) without cheap restaurants with a variety of foods, libraries that allow me access to Americanah b/c I put my name on the waitlist early this year, not sweating for most of the year.
- not to become complicit in the corruption that appears to ease the adjustment of returning. The shadiness described in the novels appears in many forms in the characters lives both personal and professional. Sometimes it is engaged in out of desperation and need, other times simply out of want. I hope to be able to continually engage in the assessment of where on the continuum these things fall for me and not just pick the seemingly smoother route. A reminder, many things take time, and many more won’t ever come to fruition.
Loving. Ifemelu and Obinze have a love story that hurts. Ifemelu makes many choices in her life that I think I would never. She describes relationships young women have with rich man in Nigeria (and all over the world) to maintain a lifestyle they cannot themselves afford. A fixation on marriage, a desperation to impress, an absence of expectation of monogamy… These are the very things that make me so hesitant when it comes to romance and relationships in my own life. What we want and what we expect are often so vastly different. To quote a character in the novel, “Many of us didn’t marry the women we truly loved. We married the woman that was around us when we were ready to marry.”
With all that surrounds us, for me, believing in the possibility of love is a challenge. I wish I could be that cold, jaded, unfeeling, calculated person who says, that love is construct, which in theory I very much know it is. But I have also known the joy of love, the agony of love, and construct or not those feelings have been very real; so real that I rooted for Ifemelu and Obinze, even when it was often too problematic for me to think it in their best interests. Love, I truly believe is lovely**, thank you Ms Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for that wonderful reminder.
All that to say buy it, I’m going to even after I’ve borrowed it from the library. 🙂
*check out our great list over at goodreads as well as up and coming fiction by writers of colour for 2013
**cheesy mystery novels, I may or may not have read every Spenser novel and picked up some Agatha Christie’s last week
*in case you haven’t noticed Monday Musings has all but dropped off
** and complicated and messy J
10 pts to anyone who gets the (super corny) 3rd picture reference
4th picture- I have a few favourite couples, who say cam^2; but these two people make up my favourite fictional couple.