Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Published: March 2014
Summary: This story mainly follows Ifemulu beginning with her teen years and first love in her home town of Lagos, Nigeria and continuing through her move to America. She becomes a well-known blogger who provides commentary on race in America through her own observations and experiences throughout her time in the States.
My Thoughts: It has taken me a while to put up this post because I am not sure how to put all of my thoughts into words in a sensical way. The first 400 pages of this book were sharp and insightful, filling my brain with strokes of genius and making my synapses work overtime. Seeing life through Ifemulu’s eyes was a cherished experience for me. I felt like I got a glimpse into a world I can’t know because the color of my skin is white. I understand that this is just a book providing one perspective, but the commentary provided through this book from Ifemulu’s “Non-American Black” POV was so interesting and felt so non-fiction. She was an outsider to the complicated and layered issue of race in the United States, yet because of the color of her skin she was expected to adopt and understand the long and pained history of American Blacks. I think this concept is illustrated so perfectly in the title of one of Ifemulu’s blog posts about this topic, “My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby.” There were just so many layers to this book and really shined a light on many things I didn’t know or understand about these experiences. It was just so good in the first 400 pages. I read passages out loud to my husband (and he dug it, which is not typical). I brought it up in conversation. I read it slowly and savored it and digested it. It made me rethink my own biases and assumptions and experiences. It was 5 star-worthy reading that I think everyone should check out. That was the first 400 pages…
…the last 200 pages were painful. I didn’t really understand why these last pages were even in the book. It seemed like Adiche was like, oh yea, I started this book with a love story so I should go ahead and pick that back up. This book was not a love-story, but she seemed to force that plot onto us anyway. I scanned the last 200 pages and understood why people had mixed feelings on the book because of them. Even with these last 200 pages, I think this is an important book to be read. The writing is excellent and descriptive and it feels honest to me (although I guess I wouldn’t exactly know). Another critique I have seen in reviews and heard from some who have read it is that they felt like Ifemulu’s experiences as a Black person in the U.S. were overstated. In other words, they felt like the constant prejudice she experienced and observed was explained too many times and they thought they were being hit over the head with it. Like, okay, I get what you are saying, but I am just going to reject that sentiment for two reasons. First, I think that’s the point. Although these experiences may feel redundant as a reader, I think it’s actually just reflecting the constancy of these situations happening. Second, from a purely enjoyment of reading perspective, I didn’t really think there was much redundancy in the stories that displayed prejudices. I felt engaged with it the whole time she is in the United States, so I have a hard time understanding that opinion just based on reading enjoyment.
Book Club Discussion: This was one of the most in-depth book discussions we have had this year. There was so much for us to unpack from the book. We spent a lot of time talking about how eye-opening and complex the many topics covered in this book were, but most especially the culture surrounding hair–we had no idea. I was really moved by the locale of Ifemulu’s early years in the States as it is in my neck of the woods and I could easily identify the places she went and the people she met. Others didn’t feel quite the connection to that time of the book, but I found that to be my favorite part of the book. We also discussed the chapter when Ifemulu experienced Barack Obama’s election. That part of the book made me cry and gave me goosebumps and gave us each a chance to reminisce about that time in our history and how Adiche’s writing captured our own feelings, but also allowed us to see how that time was amplified for Ifemulu. Something that came up over and over again was that no one seemed to like Ifemulu. My mom and sister didn’t like the duplicity between her interactions with people and her internal dialogue. On the surface she was reserved and didn’t say much, but internally she was making judgements about the person or interaction. While I know what they mean, I didn’t feel the same dislike for Ifemulu. I wouldn’t say that I found Ifemulu to be warm and likable, but I thought that I understood why she was the way she was and accepted it. I think Adiche purposely gave us time in Nigeria to learn about the culture Ifemulu grew up in so that we could better understand her and her ways. I liked this book way better than others and will likely rank it among my favorite books of the Book Club this year. It’s a great book club book, although it is a pretty lengthy read. It is the type of book you are going to want to talk about with others who are reading it, so it was ideal for a book discussion.
Next Month’s Pick: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon