Wednesday, 31 July 2013

"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie




@omotayome For Twitter

I read this book many weeks ago and I kept carrying it with me in my head. This is so because I never stopped looking at how different issues in the book connect. Also, I had to go through with reading many chapters of this book not seeing the depth of some characterisations. Some characters are left floating, rising and disappearing, and tepidly flat. This should however be applauded; that Adichie works well with the blogger self of Ifemelu even when she hasn’t blogged before. But the snag becomes how she goes separating the racism blogger self from the persona of Ifemelu the traumatised and the americanised. There are many subtle things that do not work well in this book. I will cursorily touch on some later.

This book is slightly of poverty climbing to richness, but majorly of a complex-traumatised-classy-privileged-middle class and of love lost and rekindled. From all those you have amusing and jabbing stories. Everything is made confused, every issue and every story. Isn’t life that complex? Americanah would have failed as just another immigrant story. But it didn’t because other than telling the triteness of the overflogged immigrant theme, it prickles us with our stories and we are somewhat purged. Adichie does a rich commentary on both the Nigerian and American socio-economic problems. This book will do for anyone wanting to study the psychology of émigrés. (Review spoilers won’t allow me dwell more on the various themes in this book. I could exchange private emails with anyone seeking more textual analysis on the book).

In Americanah, everything is tuned towards America. American Dream becomes everyone’s, the only escape from the country’s institutional problems as all standards are lapsing. When fate fails the General, America ensconces Aunty Uju. When the University fails, Ifemelu joins Aunty Uju in America.  Americanah builds interesting characters out of these many situations. Going to America is the saving card and everyone hankers after it. However, America is just a passing phase. America wouldn’t solve anything. America wouldn’t provide resolution but an enlightening as America is also distressed with its many issues.  In adapting to strangeness abroad and finding home strange, nothing is solved, issues only become more knotty. The hue of the chameleon only changes, the chameleon still stays.

Americanah is full of fragile lives. Everything, precious slippery things, crumbles too soon. After all it is life to have, to lose and to regain. But it is how you come close to this known reality in Americanah that does you over. This book will make you angry at so many things. It’s not that this anger is new. But you will only find a new way to be angered. A good literature does that good. In Americanah, mistakes aren’t corrected, they pile up and become new defining lives of the characters. Ifemelu’s early love with Obinze opens up her early exposure; the tennis coach encounter changes her. Obinze’s shredded love stabs his careful life; his renewed life in Nigeria makes him the villain of his own self. Aunty Uju sees the new America with Bartholomew; she faces a new type of racism with the otherness of Dike. Kosi makes a good home; but with Ifemelu.

The female characters in this book are given more authorial sympathy. Their lives; loses and abuses, are elevated to suck in your sympathy. Adichie’s feminism in the book is not subtle. That is indeed interesting. The manner villains are quickly created off the male characters makes you curious. But this book isn’t only of Ifemelu. It is of Ifemelu’s as it is very much of Obinze’s. Adichie encroaching authorial point-of-view plays at the vulnerability of the female to gather fellow feeling. And you could become an instant feminist. For instance, when Aunty Uju dumps and hurts Olujimi, nothing much is said about what may have happened to Olujimi. Olujimi receives no sympathy. He is done away with in clinical brevity. Olujimi is briefly known and quickly forgotten here:

“Aunty Uju’s exboyfriend, Olujimi, was different, nice looking and smooth and smooth-voiced; he glistened with a quiet polish. They had been together for most of university and when you saw them, you saw why they were together. ‘I outgrew him,’ Aunty Uju said.” (pg. 80)

We are strongly made to consider the reason why Ifemelu may have shut out Obinze; that Ifemelu is going through debilitating emigrational issues, which is quite a moving justification of Ifemelu’s action. Ifemelu’s life looms large on our consciousness that Obinze’s later rumpled life receives weak attention. With the tennis coach encounter, Obinze is thrown off and that is that, he deserves it. (See pg. 153-158)

Maybe this is why you are a writer: to make everything matter; to write from the mundane things; to be given so much to description even when nothing appears to be described; to write and never considers if the reader sleeps through it because you must write and bring many lives to your pages. And so when the book drags so many times, that was the only meaning I could find to it. Nothing escapes Adichie and she seems to convulse us with the many details fascinating her. She wants to write about everything around everything. And this is why I see that the hair issue in the book is overrated. More than it being the stirring for the proper evolution of Ifemelu and an avenue for the expression of immigrant struggles in snatches, it is Adichie’s metaphor for exaggeration. I speak of exaggeration not to say that some problems which it is a metaphor for are not true, but that they might have been favorably told to make the truth more sympathetic. That is another issue in this book.

Ifemelu and Obinze are archetypal characters that speak to us. As much as I understand, they are some of us. If you passed through the early rotten system that sent the Univerisities sinking, these characters are not far drawn. Maintaining a narrative vividness, Adichie sets this story at the different times that are oblique to none. Almost anyone of readeable age can relate with this book. There are many characters and stories to go round. Ifemelu and Obinze are made rarities by the deepness of their misfortunes. And you begin to question the trueness of their states; if the author has not purposefully made them to wring compassion out of the reader. Again, the issue of exaggeration comes to mind.

The inclusion of Ifemelu’s blogposts is quite a distraction. This is where Adichie gets it wrong in bordering Ifemelu the blogger from Ifemelu the americanised and traumatised. As much as Adichie overreaches herself to make the blogging tone distinct, it really disturbs the reading. Ifemelu can still be a good blogger in the book without including her blog posts (most of which are inchoate) in the book. It does really distract. They do not help the story or portray the racism troubling Ifemelu in any different way.

Americanah makes for a curious reading.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the excellent review. You have given me much to think about.

    Like all of her other books, I loved this one and read it in two days without sleeping. However,I must agree with many of your criticisms. Something about the inclusion of so many of the blog posts left the book seeming incompletely edited. And yes, the hair issue has been overrated/exxagerated in all discussions I've seen regarding the book.

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    1. Thank you so much, Mimi. Your comment is much appreciated. I really thought I was the only one thinking the air issue is overrated. I am happy the review has given you much to think about.

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  2. I agree, I found the blog posts very distracting and I actually skimmed through some of them.

    Good review.

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    1. Thank you, Ali! I really disliked reading those blogposts in the book. Like you, I had to skim through some. Thank you for finding the review good.

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  3. Literature Review support rendered by Lit-Review has proved to be extremely beneficial for the doctoral candidates residing in different corners of the world.

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  4. I think the blog posts were what I really love about the book... every other thing I'd read in news papers or seen happen to someone I know. Honestly this book is 70% about race, 20% about love and 5$ about hair. The remaining 5% is for me. Yes this book is about race, as an African Immigrant, I could relate to this book very well she wants us to talk about race we shouldn't shy away from it but I don't understand why the media keep fronting hair and love as the major stuff in this book.

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    1. Your stat about what the book consists of is interesting. Really interesting. Thanks for commenting, Americanah. :)

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    2. its about race but those who cannot relate with it will not get it. I have lived in both worlds, yes I'm proudly black but I cannot connect. the Nigeria is too poor and the America is too snobbish its all from one two point rich n poor never inbetween.

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  5. A deep and abiding love story wrapped in a blog-like narrative which delivers on every page, the story within the story, about leaving one's country, and returning. The huge issue described in genius detail is what it means to be a person of color in America, what survival costs, and how there always seems to be some underlying racism even if you think there isn't.

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  6. I think the novel brings a bit of fresh air to Adichie's style of writing, though a little old-fashioned structurally. what I find particularly interesting about the novel is the issue of social and individual identity that readers are made to reflect upon. The novel is provocatively intimate and emotionally intense, however I think language use is a bit across the bridge, vulgar and the sexual scenes are graphically illustrated but again I think this is because she has expanded her reading public and that accounts for her effort to capture the attention of all and sundry. I will read it over and over again.

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  7. An interesting review. i skipped most of the blogposts too, but found the issue of hair quiet interesting. The kinkiness of the African hair might have been over flogged, but i love the way it was portrayed in the text.

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  8. I really enjoyed the review which is why I'm going to use the novel for my final year project. The novel is an eye opener to what the blacks is going through in America and other European countries. The diasporic issues in the novel can not be shoved aside because it is real; though some issues is a bit exaggerated.

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