Thursday, August 20, 2015

Race, Sex and Hair: the Cross Cultural Politics of Americanah

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the politics of race, sex, and hair with British journalist Jon Snow

This Tuesday, we'll be discussing one of the most talked about books of the past two years. Although Americanah has won numerous awards and glowing reviews, it has also been criticized for caricaturing Nigerian life and culture, for being anti-American, anti-male, and for overall snobbery. Reactions clearly vary depending on the race, nationality or gender of the reader, (note for example Snow's bemusement in the clip above on why black hair is such a major issue, or Terry Gross's unwillingness to recognize that hair choice has specific relevance for black women).

Given the multitude of reviews, blogposts, discussion groups and videos discussing Americanah, I won't post much here.  Penguin/Random House has an excellent discussion guide, and you can follow two excellent online discussions at Goodreads Writers of Color Book club discussion  and Literary Fiction by Authors of Color discussion.

If you haven't had time to read the whole book, or if you really want to dive into deeper waters, I recommend Litcharts Americanah  Guide.  It's great for plot summaries, locating favorite quotes, and for understanding themes in the novel, and the character guide is especially helpful.

Some questions I hope we'll get to on Tuesday:

*The difference between tribal/class affiliations in Nigeria, and between African immigrants, and race/class divisions in the US.

*Importance of Barack Obama as a unifying symbol

*The meaning of "truth". Ifemelu is consistently depicted as outspoken, (often uncomfortably) and "truth" is a characteristic Obinze most associates with her. Yet is she a reliable narrator? What would other characters: Blaine, Aunty Uju, Dike, Kosi, Ginika, Raniyinudo, Kimberly, or Curt think of Ifemelu's truthfulness?

For a pointed, largely negative review from a fellow Nigerian writer, see:

Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Americanah: Through a looking glass glumly

"lfemelu’s “blog posts” in the book would have made good provocative essays. However, they are not very good, filled with generalizations and specious arguments, prescriptive at best, never examining why things are the way they are. They are at best mildly thoughtful as if the blogger was too lazy or timid to fully flesh out the thoughts. There is no vision here which is fine if it is just for entertainment but then the book strains to be taken seriously....

"Where Adichie really loses it is in her analysis of race issues in the West. The book swims in cute anecdotes about race – in black and white, but it is complicated. Adichie’s world view on race relations in America misreads the huge demographic shifts sweeping America. America is browning. It is strange, for example, that a book on exile, immigration and race is virtually silent on Hispanics (there is a little paragraph in the book somewhere that seems to do no more than acknowledge the existence of Hispanics).

"In Americanah, Adichie displays a knack for detail, nothing escapes her cynical eyes. Nigeria’s Jhumpa Lahiri, she is this fastidious house inspector groping for dirt in your bathroom. She takes superciliousness and patronizing condescension to chic heights. Americanah bears heavy echoes of Lahiri’s superciliousness. There is no joy here, just people waking up and doing what they have to do. Ifemelu will not be pleased. Nothing impresses her. Ifemelu is anal-retentive, indeed many Americans would call her an asshole. She has a huge chip on her cute shoulders. And it is ugly, bristling with impatience, a quickness to judge others using pseudo-intellectual psychobabble. And she overanalyzes everything. I mean everything. Even the peppersoup is overanalyzed. Just eat the damn thing. While Ifemelu’s preferred romantic relationships were with Western men, she hardly had any respectful conversation with anyone in the West. Everything is tinged with race. In Ifemelu’s world, America is a tired, smelly place clothed in a culture of despair. Many would disagree."

See you Tuesday, August 25th, 7:00 pm in the 1st floor Small Meeting room. To pick up a copy, stop by or call the 2nd floor desk, 847-448-8620.