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It’s taken a little longer than expected but I have finally finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a book that I chose as I wanted to see how difference was approached.

The key characteristic this book covers is race, but class, education and culture are also addressed to greater or lesser degrees.

The book focusses on the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love in school and imagine a future for themselves as a couple.

However due to the frustrations of life in Nigeria at the time, Ifemelu chooses to travel to the U.S. to complete her education and Obinze stays in Nigeria to support his mother.

This break takes the novel in two directions – documented, beautiful Ifemelu struggles with race in the U.S. but her legal status gives her a degree of security and her relationships – first with a rich white American and then with a black Harvard professor – both soothe and frustrate her.  Meanwhile Obinze makes his way to the UK, overstating his visa and surviving via shared national insurance numbers, where there is a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and he lives in a state of fear and panic every day.

As Ifemelu makes a career as a blogger on matters of race in the U.S., Obinze finds himself on the wrong side of the law in the UK and has to restart his life in a new, democratic Nigeria.

I won’t say more about the story but there were a few things that stood out to me.

This book made me think about race in a different way.  Ifemelu notes that she ‘discovered race in America’, and that is how it feels. She understood her position in society in Nigeria, and the relative position of others, and she understood the kudos given to those of her school friends who travelled to the U.S. or UK.  But colour, and its context, were not uppermost in her mind.  You see, as she sees, the strange gradient of colour that informs her America.  Equally, you feel the cold, outsider status Obinze experiences as he tries to stay under the radar in the UK.

For me that was eye opening: the feelings people have about race, the explanations given via Ifemelu’s blog on why white people cannot understand the issues, the basic notion that people don’t know how to talk about race.  All these things are obvious – but some people can forget it more than others.

Also, both characters are interesting, flawed people who make some poor choices with the feeling of utter desperation: it gave context to their need to leave Nigeria, at the same time as showing the life they chose instead wasn’t guaranteed. It proved that the grass is not always greener and particularly for Obinze that proved to be the case.

It was an absorbing and interesting insight.

What didn’t work so well for me was Ifemelu’s romantic life.  It made her exceptional in some ways, and in others made me feel she was reimagining her aunt’s life: plucked from poverty and offered a life most people can only dream about.  I think the interracial aspects were muted by the sense of privilege – we didn’t see the challenges faced by the two of them.  The underlying idea that this relationship was somehow related to her green card is only really mentioned when the relationship is long over.

Perhaps there were subtleties which escaped me, or terms used which have a different context in US English, which said more than I realised here in the book.  Both are of course entirely possible!

I enjoyed the story in Nigeria which was eye-opening and, eventually, hopeful.  I found Obinze’s time in the UK painful and heard-rending.  I found Ifemelu’s early exposure to the U.S. emotionally painful.  It was only the relationship with the uber-rich, super-handsome, all-round good guy that jarred with me because it didn’t feel real.

Despite that, I would be happy to read it again.  At its core, it is the story of a defining love crushed by desperation, guilt and shame, and the hope that one day your path will take you where your heart wants to go.

As a writer, it has given me a lot to think about!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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Every day, I set aside some time to write and do any coursework needed. It’s time set aside from paid work, housework, social life, hobbies etc and it is down to me how – and how well – I use the time.

This week has been more about reading than writing, with most of my literary time spent in Americanah, or textbooks, or newspapers.

After Thursday’s post I practiced what I preached and bought a newspaper to dig through over the next few days.  It is big and has many supplements so it’ll take me a bit of time to dissect the stories and articles, balance them and see what, if anything, inspires me.

I already have a few ideas and I am eager to see if they fly…

Although there are no new words on paper, to write I must give myself time to read, so this week was like research, or an extension of my learning.

It’s been a good exercise in identifying how the right word was chosen, understanding the subtle manipulations of thought that writers have to achieve, identifying what grabs my attention as a reader.

In many respects, it has been an opportunity to review my recent learning on style, language and context.

Over the next week I will be getting into my next writing course, playing with the newspaper articles to see what they create, and finishing Americanah so I have a chance to reflect on difference in writing.

For now, I am going to curl up with a good book and a pile of newspaper in the hope that I can share my experiences with you next week!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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I am still working my way through Americanah, but my brain is on a go slow and I am taking my sweet time over it!

So far I am enjoying the read, and am picking up on the subtle and not so subtle impact of difference within the story – views on class, finances, background, outlook, expectations, colour, nationality are all inbuilt, but I don’t feel hit over the head by any of them due to the way they are covered.

It’s a long book (477 pages) so I hope I feel the same by the end.  Watch this space!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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