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Thread: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. #1

    Nigeria Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    I thought I would create a thread on this up and coming international literary star given that she has achieved so much success and because her name has popped up in a few places around here as a potential future winner of the Nobel. For my part, based on this book anyways, I think she has a long ways to go before she can achieve Nobel status, but I won't suggest she is incapable of moving in that direction. On my scale of authors, though, I would toss her more firmly in the same status as, say Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood - writers who are good but not quite good enough for that most impressive of all prizes. That said, like with Murakami and Atwood, I'll definitely be coming back to read more of her work, even if it is just for the fun of it. Maybe she will surprise me with something truly astonishing and literary at some point.

    Has anybody else read some of her work? What did you think of it?

    Below, as somebody asked me to do so in the Recently Read thread, I've copied my review for the book from my goodreads account. It is of her book Americanah, which came out to a great deal of fanfare in 2013 and was nominated for more than handful of awards and winning the National Book Critics Circle Award. I didn't love the book, but I didn't hate it either. It has some greatness tucked into it.

    _____

    There are likely few recently released books that have been read by as many of my goodreads friends as this one, Americanah, which was put into the wild a few years ago now but continues to pop up on my feed on a weekly basis as somebody else picks it up and begins and post their reading progress updates along with a line about how very, very good it is. That surely is part of why I picked it up. But I like to think it had more to do with how very zeitgeist-y it is; I mean, letís not forget to talk about the elephant in the room. In the face of Trump, reading a book by a famous black woman who has immigrated to the United States feels kind of just right, doesnít it? I mean, sure, there are a ton of other things I could read to address a lot of his other sins against human dignity, but this one feels particularly right, particularly powerful, kind of like a big middle finger directed at the White House but in the form of paper.

    At least, it felt right in the moments before reading it. But it didnít take long to discover that, for all of the things which this book does very well, it does so many which hold it back that I struggle to really see how it has received so much praise. That isnít to say that the book isnít good, because it is. It just isnít marvellous.

    One of the most impressive aspects of this book is the astonishing intersection of ideas and realities that it brings into play.

    [SPOILERS]

    Here we have a woman from Africa, immigrated to the country, taking advantage of a few opportunities which come her way and eventually getting her green card after studying at a university (to be clear, as a Canadian, I donít fully appreciate the gravity of this achievement in contemporary America), and discovering that America is so very different than what she expected or knew prior to her arrival where, in Nigeria, her boyfriend had a deep admiration for the States and her boyfriendís mother one for England, in Nigeria, which she left for more schooling because the state of corruption and stability in the government and education system made it structurally impossible to pursue her university degree, in Nigeria, where her father lost his job because he refused to call his boss a certain title and as a result her family was thrust into a deeper state of poverty (though not as deep as one imagines when they think of Africa), because that is what corruption can often look like, in the United States, where she falls in love a couple times and both relationships force her to confront her blackness in a new way, her accent, her hair, in the United States, where she discovers that she is Black and as a result comes to this identity late in life and, as a result, is never comfortable in it, in the United States, where she writes a blog about her discovery of blackness and achieves some level of fame and recognition as a result, in the United States, where she dates a big, smart academic and, in this world of intellectual privilege, finds herself drowning in a malaise of contentedness that didnít quite line up with happiness, where she witnesses a whole bunch of self-congratulating and group-think and hypocritical building up and tearing down, where she watches everybody be overly political and overly concerned with their intellectual and moral perfection, overly concerned with their relationship with reality, back in Nigeria, where she adopts this weird relationship with her ex-boyfriend who is now married, a relationship which resembles the one her aunt had had with a corrupt Colonel in Nigeria (a corrupt colonel who is also the uncle of her nephew, who she loves without ceasing, and who himself, because he is raised in America, suffers from all sorts of weird and unfamiliar issues related to the colour of his skin and, because of this, perhaps not because of this, eventually falls victim to that apparently most North American or North American illnesses, the mental sort) insofar as she becomes the woman on the side begging for more attention and a more honest relationship while, at the same time, discovering that Nigeria is as foreign to her as the United States had been. And then, at the end of the story, you discover the entire thing has really been an extended love story. Oh yeah. And there are peacocks.

    [/SPOILERS]

    By any measure, that is an incredible amount of content and ideas mixing together to construct a whole bunch of reality for one woman to have to deal with and do so with remarkable integrity. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, clearly, a wizard for having been able to construct so many fascinating and complex relationships that connect with so many experiences lived by so many fascinating and complex people in the world. And you know what? It is astonishingly believable for much of the book.

    About that. Did I mention that this book is zeitgeist-y? Well, it certainly is. It is, without a doubt, one of the books that every SJW would love to have come up with (and I say that as a proud SJW). Like, it just hits all of the buttons, and at times hits them brilliantly. But sometimes those buttons that were being pressed felt very well-used. I suspect reading this book in 2017 is very different than reading it in 2013. Much of the time I was reading I was marvelling at just how familiar it all felt even if I had no right to claim any experience with any of these realities. Isnít that interesting? Like, just by having been changed by feminists to become a more committed feminist, having been altered by the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements Iíve become more committed as an anti-racist, by having studied Marxism and unemployment and labour history Iíve become more dedicated to the dramatic reduction of class inequality, and the treatment by Canadians and Americans of refugees, immigrants and foreigners in general over the past several years has pushed me to care more and more about defending the rights and dignity of those who who are from other places (Nobody is Illegal!), and suddenly this book which speaks to many (though far from all) of my values just doesnít quite click. I mean, I should have been nodding my head in agreement the entire time, chuckling along with the clarity and obviousness of it all, perhaps even letting out sighs of self-contentment as I discovered somebody has finally put into words something that I had felt or understood for so long but hadnít yet been able to put into words myself. But that just rarely ever happened.

    Part of the problem here is, well, the words themselves. Let me digress for a moment. I remember years ago reading Upton SinclairísThe Jungle in a history class at university as a means of understanding early 20th century America. It is a good book, maybe even more than good. But in the discussion afterwards I was quite surprised to hear that so many people in the class didnít like it. In retrospect I now wonder if many of them had read the full book or if most had simply read reviews and criticisms online, but I think back on two of those criticisms every now and then when I remember the book. The first was that the book wasnít believable, all of those events, and horrible ones at that, happening to the same person, the same family, in a short period of time. Thatís a legitimate criticism of the book, partially explained by its gestation. It hadnít occurred to me as I read it, but it did when I heard it. The second was that the book was poorly written or, more specifically, overwritten, too damned big, with sentences that were too damned long, and content that, while valuable for explaining the conditions of those butcher-house workers, just felt a bit too heavy handed and maybe even unnecessary. This had occurred to me as I read it, but I actually enjoyed that writing, so I didnít give it much credence at the time. I wonder if I would be so generous now.

    Let me toss both of those criticisms up at Americanah. The book falls into the unbelievable at times, and feels like it is almost a parody of reality rather than an honest exploration of it. I mean, look at that synopsis I offered above. Sure, that is kind of what reality looks like, but is that what literature about reality looks like? Iím not sure. Somebody will make that case it is, and if it isnít, they might argue that it is what the literature should look like. Iíd listen to them, because they might be right. I would just hope they would show me another book to back up the argument. They'd probably convince me.

    The book also falls victim to a chaos of words at times. That isnít to say the sentences are too long or that they commit the critical sin of word vomit. No, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is very attentive to the length of her sentences, and she is not one to ramble around in one for too long. Rather, the chaos of words pops up just because there are too damned many, even if they are separated by that beautiful piece of punctuation, the period. This isnít a constant problem - there are moments of wonderful writing, writing which does exactly what it needs to do with pacing and cadence and shape and rhythm. But there is a general, nearly inexplicable, nearly undefinable, unrefinedness to the entire thing, as though it would have benefitted a great deal from a good edit or two more but as though the author or her editor were reluctant to keep it back and continue polishing the work that they had made.

    Let me add one more point of criticism - the bad metaphors that pop up in the last 60 pages. Peacocks and colonial mansions in disrepair. I guess the new imagery makes sense, coming back to a country which was renewed while the main character, Ifemelu, was away in America, but it felt completely unrelated to any of the literary techniques which were employed beforehand, felt like an afterthought, felt like it didnít quite connect with anything that had proceeded it. I mean, sure, maybe Iím too intrigued to the fine precision of a good novella or a great short story rather than the grandeur of big novels like this one, but the lack of continuity really surprised and disappointed me.

    Overall, a good book. At times a brilliant and affecting book. I particularly loved the parts about not making sense of America and its race relations, and about being African in a new place. There is a grand intelligence in the writer of this book, a keen and observant eye. But it is held back by something. The writing, the familiarity, the sensation that Iíve read this book for the past 6 years in the canals of my facebook feed as it talks about black lives and vegetarianism and academics, the slightly amateur use of a few metaphors, maybe all of this combined. Something is holding this book back from greatness.

    But that wonít stop me from going to read more by this writer. Iíve heard too much to think it isnít worth the investment.



  2. #2
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    Default Re: Chimamanda Ngozi Adizie

    Wow. I'm so happy to find she has a thread here. Lol, and nobody says anything. But hmm. What should I contribute...

    I honestly haven't read Americanah (I have been forgetting to buy it...for two years), only the first chapter which she always reads in readings and talks of her that I find online. I must've watched all her videos on youtube (there are a lot,) her speeches (her two TED talks (the first one introduced me to her,) commencement speeches, lectures) and talks about her books (in book festivals, talk shows.) I've read her book of short stories and there are quite a handful I loved in that collection, and also her first novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. These, I can imagine and from what I've heard from her and from people, are very much different from Americanah.

    I believe she mentioned that Americanah was "an ode to all the Mills&Boon novels she read growin up." Haha. And that it simply was just a love story. She has said that "she writes the kind of fiction she likes to read." And I guess it was a very personal novel, Americanah. Purple Hibiscus is different, it was about a religious nut of a father narrated by his abused daughter. Half of a Yellow Sun was about the Biafran civil war. My point is uhh...haha. I believe you would have a more general opinion of her or, I could say, more acceptable (? bet there's a better word I can't think of right now I'm too lazy) one if you would read more of her. As I believe she is worth the effort. As for Nobel, I am as surprised as you are. Ha ha. Not only because her body of work is very slim but because she doesn't seem to fit the mold. But I must argue, if Dylan should get it, then she certainly deserves to or has the right to be in consideration. Damn, I will never get over Dylan's win.

    A fascinating thing about her novels and now I can say this with certainty as I read your "SPOILER" is that in all three of them, there is that one beautiful human being of an aunt. Who will be the next aunt, I wonder. I bet people who would write about her works someday will not miss that: THE BEAUTIFUL SAGE-AUNTS IN THE WORKS OF C. N. ADICHIE.
    Last edited by CapreseBoi; 10-Oct-2017 at 09:46.

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