Finished Americanah. I feel so many emotions swirling inside me that I don’t rightly know how to put in words. I wish I had Adichie’s words…she would have no trouble finding the right ones. Indeed no, she would find a way to solidify the amorphous until it was recognizable and beautiful in the way only the right words can be.
Being women is the only thing we have in common other than of course our shared love for our respective 3rd world cities, and it is enough! How comforting that thought in this crazy labelled world be now inhabit. I’m an Indian, born and brought up in India and the 4 years I lived in Singapore is my only brush with day-to-day life in the First World as we like to call it. It has it’s advantages but it ain’t all peaches & cream; and Adichie understands. She gets the nuances in voice-tone and body language that serve to silently alienate & subjugate; she gets the yearning for home despite the enjoyment of a great life in an adopted country; she gets the burden of the need to appear constantly grateful in the presence of self-proclaimed natives (lets just be honest about the fact that the White Man is NOT native to America. He slaughtered the natives and made it his); and she gets also, the guilt that can arise from feeling that burden, or worse from not feeling it.
For me this book was as authentic an experience as I expected from a story about immigrants. That is what it is at it’s heart. The story of Ifemelu & Obinze – as they grow up in Nigeria under various regimes, migrate to the US and the UK and come back home again in a full circle narrative. Along the way we are treated to each of their life experiences in those countries – bad, good and messy in equal measure. Adichie’s insights into migrant thought and feeling are phenomenal and she manages to be perceptive and funny without being preachy or condescending. There is no right and wrong here – just your truth and my truth and the occasional common ground where the two might meet and mingle.
Adichie also tackles the race issue – head on and without apology. For obvious reasons, I have not encountered the racial prejudice – subtle and overt – as Ifemelu & Obinze do in their very diverse immigrant experiences – but I understood their pain and confusion. Their joys and their angst felt as real and gut-wrenching to me as it must have to them. Their choices both good and disastrous – became mine, as did their dreams and hopes. You see how they’ve become real people to me? If that isn’t the sign of a great book then I’m sure I don’t know what is!
It’s hard for me to find faults in this narrative. It flows seamlessly from one country to another and back. It reads like Life itself, as Adiche establishes a rhythm to Ifemelu’s life and later to Obinze’s. I love that Ifemelu writes a Blog. I love that she feels insecure about it. I love that she is persistent and irreverent and brave and silly. I love that she makes decisions that turn her life on it’s head for reasons she cannot fathom herself. I love that she forgives herself for not having said reasons! How often that has been true for me! And Obinze – if I had a man like him, I would go ahead & screw it up just as Ifem does no doubt 😉 It is such a comfort and joy to read such a good masculine character – not one that is too good to be true – by no means that. But one who is inherently good and willing to deal with the mess he’s created with a semblance of dignity. He is his mother’s son in the end, even if it does take him a while to get there 🙂
I also liked that the Lagos ethos was instantly identifiable as were Ifem’s immediate reactions upon her return. Her distrust of her memories of an older time, a bygone Lagos, because there seemed nothing left of them in the new gaudy city, were familiar. Akin to what I felt when I first returned from just four years away to my beloved Bombay and found it so changed. ‘Was that building really so old?’ ‘Were people always this rude?’ ‘Was life always such a hustle?’ And then of course her wondering whether she feels the way she does because the city has changed more than she has or vice versa or perhaps a little bit of both…that was all too familiar too. Lagos & Bombay felt like twin cities, being as they are economic hubs for their countries; drawing people from all over, hustlers all – each in their own way, trying to get a piece of the Good Life; their vibrant vibes concealing a seedy underbelly.
I could go on endlessly about this book but I see this post is already too long 😛 Needless to say, Adichie is now a favourite 🙂 Her prose and style are utterly engaging and this story hit a whole symphony of nerves within! I wonder what Purple Hibiscus will be like – I’m reading it for my Book Club.