Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

I have been reading Americanah. It’s beautiful and brilliant, like all of her writing, though I still like the book of short stories – That Thing Around Your Neckbest.

Minor spoilers ahead for the book.

The relationships are fascinating – the characters, as well as what binds them together, so well drawn. I keep thinking about Ifemelu’s (the protagonist) relationship with Aunty Uju. It seems so typical of relationships forged at a young age, or probably any relationship that lasts long enough, as the people in it change, that you look at the other person and wonder where the person you had known earlier has gone. Sometimes, it’s just that you were too young to see the other person’s flaws; and of course, people may change. Ifemelu seeing her aunt – who used to be so cool, who she talked to about boys and sex – becoming a more submissive, pragmatic person, partly because circumstances have beaten her down… and finding less in common with her than she does with her son… It seems typical of many relationships but sad nonetheless, as you try to hold on to the relationship for the sake of what was, rather than what is.

The other thing I’ve been wondering about is when Ifemelu suddenly stops communicating with Obinze, her childhood sweetheart and probably the love of her life, whom she left behind in Nigeria when she went away to college in America. Yet they remained friends and sweethearts, communicating regularly over email and phone calls. To me, who finds long-distance relationships extremely difficult, I found this endearing, admirable, and a little difficult to believe – that there was no resentment on either end, no frustration over not being able to see or even talk to the loved one more often. But then she suddenly stops communicating, does not reply to his emails or open his letters. She finds it difficult to tell him of an experience she went through, and so just stops talking to him at all.

I find that difficult to understand, though I guess it’s realistic enough. I have often kept difficult or traumatic experiences to myself, because it’s too painful to talk about it, because I have a misplaced sense of shame. When Markitty failed, for instance, both the Guy and I were depressed – I don’t know if we were clinically depressed, but now it seems like it. I was numb, the kind of numbness that feels close to despair, when you’re not sure if you’ll ever feel excited about anything again. And at the same time you don’t recognize it for what it is, all you have is self-blame and low self-esteem, and the last thing you want to do is be brave enough to tell someone else how you feel. It’s easier if that friend is someone you meet regularly, but moving away (both in my case and in Ifemelu’s) made that impossible. Of course, I had the Guy, so it wasn’t so bad. We tried to take comfort in each other, though it was difficult when we were both going through the same thing. But because we had each other we had some hope that things would get better, though it was difficult, just then, to really believe it.

Anyway, back to Ifemelu. I get that it’s difficult to talk about a harrowing experience. I would have probably just covered it and talked of other things, not mentioned it until much letter, until time and distance reduced the horror. But in some ways her way seems more natural, more honest… but also more hurtful for poor Obinze. I have been on the receiving end of a friend – at the time my best friend – suddenly growing silent, not responding to letters or messages sent through common friends. It took me years to get over the anger and feeling of betrayal (though I did, and we are friends again, though friendship seems much less intense and more low-stakes now than it did when I was a teenager). It must have been so much more difficult for Obinze, always supportive and loyal even when she decided to move continents away, to deal with the sudden silence. It seems cruel to put a partner through that, to not even email, “Ceiling, I am well, but I can’t talk to you right now. I need my space. I’m sorry, but please try to understand.”

But Ifemelu was going through depression, and was probably mal-nourished and extremely busy and stressed out, so it’s not probably not surprising that she wasn’t thinking straight. (Also, of course, she was younger than I am now, and I’ve done stupid shit when I was young.)

So… I don’t really have a point, except that it’s an interesting and thoughtful book (as anything by Adichie is!) and you should read it. And it’s only $2.17 on the Kindle right now – go grab it.

Here are some reviews:

·         The Guardian

·         The New York Times

·         The New York Times, again (I liked this review much better)

I had some more thoughts on the book after I finished it - spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

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