by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published May 14th 2013
“How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.”
This book made it clear to me that opinions do actually change after many years. I first read it in 2013 after it came out and I have to say the feeling it left me with then was definitely not the same this time round. My mental state was different then I have to say. It is now a book in my top of the top list. It is perhaps the best book I have read so far this year.
The powerful thing about this book was the message it delivered. Chimamanda addresses issues that many people are going through in modern day Africa, not just in Nigeria. From the start with the socio-political issues that many countries in Africa face to how many women use religion to explain everything and the struggles of being an immigrant.
“I didn’t know I was even supposed to have issues until I came to America.”
She takes a look at the lives many Africans in diaspora go through and how the experience of race is not all the same for every black person in America or England. There is a way people look at you when you are a black born and bred in America and when you are a black immigrant from Africa. The book felt like some sought of ‘Race 101’ class.
“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”
The first time I read the book, I didn’t quite understand why she went on and on complaining about the issue of racism. I always believe racism is something ignorant people suffer from and I would never give them the time of day by getting offended by their thoughts and deeds. I have sisters who have lived both in America and Europe. They are still living abroad and they keep telling me that as long as you have never experienced that life, you will never know what it feels like. When I read the book this time round, I took off my goggles and took in the message from a non-opinionated point of view.
“I did not think of myself as black, I only became black when I came to America.”
Ifemelu becomes aware of her ‘blackness’ once she gets to America. Not that she wasn’t aware that she was indeed black but when she gets to the land of the free and brave, she is made aware of it. She finds that people react to her skin color in every setting even when she is among other black people. There is some sort of racial ranking in the society where different immigrants fall and they have to work hard to climb that ranking in order to get a better shot in life.
“In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters.”
She points out how black women are made to discard their true nature so that they can conform to what has been deemed right by others. They have to change so many things about themselves in order to be accepted by society. Her hair in its natural form is frowned upon and she is advised to get it ‘relaxed’ so that she can ace a job interview. The way they change their accents just so that they can fit in and be understood by other people.
“Please don’t speak Igbo to him,” Aunty Uju said. “Two languages will confuse him.”
“What are you talking about, Aunty? We spoke two languages growing up.”
“This is America. It’s different.”
There was also the whole issue on how many of the African immigrants follow crooked paths just to get to where they want to be. They are obstructed from doing so many things that would help sustain their lives in those countries that they find ways in which they can make it. This ends up being dangerous for them in different ways as they end up being extorted by wicked people who gain from their desperation. They also come across perverts who prey on their need to make money just to pay for their rent.
“Maybe it’s time to just scrap the word “racist.” Find something new. Like Racial Disorder Syndrome. And we could have different categories for sufferers of this syndrome: mild, medium, and acute.”
The story that stays with the reader from start to finish is the love story between Obinze and Ifemelu. Even when they are apart, they think of each other. Obinze’s efforts to make it to America to be with her and the struggles he went through just to keep her in his life. I did not care for Obinze the first time but I saw him in a different light. He was just a man madly in love with a girl who did not make it all too easy for him. The struggle to keep in touch before the FaceTime era, WhatsApp and Skype. All they could rely on were emails and phone calls that charged ridiculous prices.
“I’m chasing you. I’m going to chase you until you give this a chance.”
And I cried at the end of it. I cried because of the beauty of it all. Although the ending felt a bit rushed, it still worked. The last part felt like it was something that needed to be completed before a deadline. But all in all it was such a beautiful book and I highly recommend it. Read this now!