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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

americanah-300x0Finished 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.

This is my first book by Adichie and one that deserves not 5 stars but a clear evening sky full of a million stars! Coz ever so often in my reading, that’s how I imagined myself reading it…underneath an epic sky! It seemed only fitting. It is epic in scope and in detail. A saga…that still feels firmly anchored in reality. Perhaps it’s Ifemelu’s influence. I like to think so. The inimitable Ifemelu – a girl after my own heart, a woman I strongly identified with despite the fact that she and I inhabit disparate universes (and I don’t mean real and fictional)…despite the fact that I’m not Nigerian, not an immigrant, not Black.

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.

MUST READ!

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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Non-Booker Reviews

 

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The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

How irritating it is to be wrong! Well not wrong exactly because, truthfully,  I didn’t have an opinion of the book (not having read it until now), just an irrational dislike for the author and for the massive hype that surrounded this Booker Prize winner, that prevented me for many years from reading it 😛 Silly I know – but I can get like that sometimes! So sue me 😉

The God of Small ThingsNow that I have read it – I see that I was wrong. It is a book worth reading because of Roy’s unique writing style.  John Updike mentions in the New Yorker, “A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does…” I couldn’t agree more. Her staccato, clipped narration; her nouvelle word combinations that convey tantalizingly precise meanings otherwise elusive in the English language; her usage of local lingo at opportune moments; her accented dialogues and decisive use of punctuation, her new descriptions of old thoughts and emotions; and the portrayal of her characters mindsets – accurate and incisive; all make this a fascinating if rather difficult read.

Difficult in the way a loaded gun might be difficult if you’ve never handled one before! Weighted but reassuring when you’re ready or heavy and awkward when you’re not. If you’re up for it – this is a good read. The story is dark (another hallmark of Booker Winners!), yet the telling has a tragicomic feel to it, with the dark humour, the witty descriptions, the sly implications, and the foregone conclusions all colluding to produce a constant sinister undercurrent to the obvious fairly straightforward storyline. All through the reading you get a sense of impending doom and yet you cannot but keep reading, so unlike The Inheritance of Loss which for me had no redeeming factors at all!

I cannot help compare Roy’s work with Anita Nair’s, only because they both write so convincingly and sensually of Kerala, but where Nair is gentle and tender in her tone, Roy is often brutal and unforgiving and raw. There were no real surprises in the storyline for me – I solved the little hints that are planted throughout the narrative as to emotions, thoughts and plots rather well and so will most readers. It’s not a whodunit after all, but what sets it apart is once again the ‘way in which it is told’. The manner is what lends it a certain exotic appeal & mystique and I can only assume it is that which won it the Booker. Well, lesser works have won for flimsier reasons I dare say 😛 But I understand the win now and I think it deserving inasmuch as my opinion counts 😉 certainly more deserving than The Inheritance of Loss, although I do so hate comparing 😉

I should have read this one much earlier but I’m glad I finally did. A major crib though is the book cover! Surely they could have found a more attractive cover for a book with such an enticing title? I have taken better pictures then this one! The lacklustre grey-green of the lotus pond makes for a dull and entirely inappropriate cover, given that this book is so vividly alive! If it has a covert symbolism, I confess I have missed it entirely. I hope they change it in future editions!

On the whole – a very satisfying read and a mountain climbed! I’m feeling very proud of myself 😛

Here is an excerpt from early on in the book, written in Roy’s signature style;

“It had been quiet in Estha’s head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn’t hear himself for the noise. Trains. Traffic. Music. The Stock Market. A dam had burst and savage waters swept everything up in a swirling. Comets, violins, parades, loneliness, clouds, beards, bigots, lists, flags, earthquakes, despair were all swept up in a scrambled swirling.”

And here is another,

“Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons. Short creatures with long shadows, patrolling the Blurry End. Gentle half-moons have gathered under their eyes and they are as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.”

And this,

“Twin millstones and their mother. Numb millstones. What they had done would return to empty them. But that would be Later. Lay Ter. A deep-sounding bell in a mossy well. Shivery and furred ike moth’s feet. At the time, there would only be incoherence. As though meaning had slunk out of things and left them fragmented. Disconnected. The glint of Ammu’s needle. The colour of a ribbon. The weave of the cross-stitch counterpane. A door slowly breaking. Isolated things that didn’t mean anything. As though the intelligence that decodes life’s hidden patterns – that connects reflections to images, glints to light, weaves to fabrics, needles to thread, walls to rooms, love to fear to anger to remorse – was suddenly lost.”

And finally perhaps my favourite, a wonderful description of a ‘Great Story’!

“It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.” Amen!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Book Club – Mary Alice Munroe

I’ve just finished this book and am so disappointed that I have! That it’s done, over, finito! I wish there was more of it, more of the women in it, of their stories…I wish!It’s been a while since I felt like this about a book from this genre. I was drawn to it by a Shelfari friend’s glowing review (Thanks Swati!), and the title…how could I not read a book about a Book Club?!

Didn’t feel like that when I began which was two days ago…ah I thought, here’s another one of those books by a woman about women, finding themselves, triumphing against all odds, finding the end of the rainbow…a ‘feel-good’ book and not particularly my favourite genre. After a lifetime of reading, you’d think I know better than to trust my own judgement 😉

I can’t say exactly when I found myself truly hooked onto this group of five very different women on their own separate, unique but oddly similar journeys 🙂 Coz isn’t that what Life’s all about…aren’t we all on the same journey viewd from different perspectives, if you get what I’m saying? I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that, as a woman in her forties, their stories resonated with me. I understood a lot of background and context because I knew so well where they were coming from. Many times I had ‘been there and done that’. I don’t think this would have been as powerful or interesting a book for me personally if I had read it in my twenties, I just wouldn’t have been as interested or understanding of these women and their problems. I would have been…dismissive and boy would I have been a fool!

So, we have Eve, Doris, Annie, Midge and Gabriella and the stories of their lives, intertwined yet separate, each unique not because of the ‘story’ but because of the ‘woman’ it happens to. Munroe is fantastic when it comes to writing about the ‘ordinariness’ (if you will) of life in general. Her prose is easy; her simple, gentle style suits her subject. I love how she takes us on each woman’s journey, every agonizing misstep and every tiny triumph, in an oddly comforting way, peeling away the layers of self-doubt every woman goes through, until she comes to the right decision for herself. Along the way each one of the ‘Girls’ as I like to call them, discovers an inner strength and tests the bonds of friendship, often discovering support & understanding where she least expects to! So like in real Life! Each one during the course of a year, learns more about herself, her friends, trust, love and the hardest lesson of all in my opinion…the art of letting go. Munroe finds a way to make each journey believable, authentic and interesting, without lapsing into extreme sappiness.

In a book with five women, one is bound to have favourites 😀 and although Eve’s story is the dominant one, I liked Doris’s best which surprised me no end, not in the least because I have nothing in common with her life outwardly, but I understood her inner self best and was soon rooting for her to do the right thing! Strange that, coz I felt and still feel that I identify most with Annie…her feelings of isolation in childhood and the kind of person she is because of them, her need to always be strong (or perceived as certainly), her inability to reach out and ask for her help until her world’s collapsing around her are sadly not alien to me, and that’s what really got me thinking. I didn’t ike Annie much in the beginning and I can’t say I liked her in the end, but I understood her better and I was glad she understood that help comes to those that ask. It’s something I need to understand too and I’m getting better at it, but there’s always room for improvement! Maybe it’s a woman thing?!

Another thing I have to be thankful for is that this book finally got me writing again!! A long review that will go on my blog after ages of being abandoned as Life & routine overwhelmed me! Slowly I feel like I’m getting back some semblance control and maybe that’s why this book hit a chord. Munroe’s picked some great books for this Book Club of hers…ranging from Moby Dick to The Bible…and every chapter starts with a quote from the ‘book of the month’, that sets the tone for what’s to follow. I liked that and I loved the retreat at Doris’s cabin on the lake, and the tree house she built…a celebration of womanhood if ever there was one.

This is a wonderful read, easy and fulfilling in a quiet gentle way. It’s about women like you and me trying their best to get on with their lives, battling issues that most women in their forties will identify with consciously or not…troubled marriages, a loss of that ‘sense of self’ that defines who we are, loneliness, menopause, children leaving, and many more. And yet this ‘second adolescence’ as the Girls call it, is worth all the heartache, pain and struggle that come before. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Oh No! It’s a trial by fire at best, and I can testify to that coz I’m still still in the middle of mine…but dare I say…enjoying every terrifying, exciting bit of it?! Yeah…it’s all about choice and perspective and most of all about freedom…Freedom of the ‘self’, which so many women fear perhaps because we’ve been conditioned to equate it with betrayal & abandonment of our family & friends. Strong words I know but oh so true. One look at my Mom and I know I’m not wrong. But we’re getting better at taking care of ourselves…slowly, steadily and hopefully 🙂

Let me leave you with a passage from the book that made me smile and that to me defines the essence of this book…”She leaned back in her chair and stared at the moon.  It hung in the sky beside her, a silent but steady presence – inspiring, enlightening, timeless, changing. Sometimes fat, sometimes thin, sometimes glowing. Sometimes those blotches were right there on the surface for the world to see. Some nights the moon dominated the sky, other nights it slipped quietly through veils of clouds. Sometimes it was mysterious, other times it was exposed, scarred with the prints of men’s heavy boots. Tonight the moon seemed to be smiling at her, keeping her company with a glow that seemed to radiate from within. It filled her with its golden light. The moon had to be a woman, Doris decided. Raising her glass, she toasted her new friend and called out, “You Go, Girl!”

Read it!

P. S. Oh and just so we’re clear…as far as I know this book wasn’t nominated for a Booker or any other award but I could be mistaken about ‘any other’. I haven’t checked! Still, for me another nail in the coffin that is my Booker-reading Project 😦

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Non-Booker Reviews

 

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