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Discussion in 'Book of the Month' started by Polly Parrot, Nov 20, 2014.
Discussion starts December 1st, get reading!
Got it, and it is in process.
I'm about 30% in at the moment myself. Like it so far.
I'm only at ten% but... likewise enjoying so far. Goal is to have it finished by December 1st.
My goal is to have it finished by December 31st...
Coincidentally, I recently finished this book and loved it. I'm looking forward to the discussion.
Stayed up to late last night finishing this. Partly because I wanted to be done by the 1st and mainly because I couldn't stop reading.
If I had to summarize in a one sentence review it might go something like this :
Well written tale of a Nigerian immigrant stumbling through her train wreck of a love life while secretly criticizing every single person she interacts with.
I am ready for discussion whenever!
A Nigerian Liz Jones Diary, interesting.
LOL! Had never heard of that, just looked it up and well..... sort of.
But actually it is much more than that. Adichie is a fantastic writer and the story really does pull you in. It was just tough to feel sympathetic for the main protagonist. At least for me.
I felt like the protagonist was intended to invoke mixed feelings. She was very complex, and the author didn't seem to go to lengths to endear her to us. There were points I was screaming at her because she was making such stupid decisions. In the end, it gave me an overall feeling of the protagonist having been both realistic and fallible, a very well-rounded character. She was exceptionally judgmental, though, especially for a character that seemed to have a vested interest in not being judged.
Well said! You can't get all angry at a character unless it is a very well drawn and realistic character. Ifemelu invites criticism because she is so critical. And the hair thing!! I am apolitical, because politics in this country has become senseless, but her stance on hair typifies what I can't stand about liberal posturing. You should feel free and comfortable to express yourself however you like! (as long as you do it the way I think you should, and if you don't, I will look down on you). Aarrgh, that drives me nuts. What's so wrong with someone relaxing their hair if they want to? God gave us earwax too! Should we stop cleaning our ears?
But what of Obinze? A little too perfect? The author's "African Ideal Male" maybe?
Wow... didn't mean to end the conversation... If it helps I detest most conservative posturing just as much. Does that help? lol
Anyway, things I really really liked about the book were.
1. I loved the immersion in Nigerian culture in part one. I enjoyed the language and the cultural descriptions of school life, family life, social status, food, dress, and music. As a black American I have always felt a curiosity regarding African culture, but not enough to actually learn about it, lol. So this was a fun way for me to get some insight into the subject.
2. The characters were the best part of this book. I can't think of one character that I didn't feel was realistic. The whole cast is so well drawn and believable. Sometimes maddeningly so, but it is amazing to see the levels and layers unfold. You feel like you know these people after a while. It is the strength of the characters that ultimately draws you in and sucks you along. Whether you like them or not, you are interested in their lives and have to see what happens next.
3. Even though it seemed brief, I enjoyed the section covering Obinze's failed life in the U.K. I thought it was an interesting parallel to Ifemelu in the U.S. and ironic that ultimately his failure to achieve his dreams was probably because he was a man. I didn't quite understand his rise to wealth as it was dealt with very quickly. I surmised that he was put in touch with somebody powerful and someway or other, that man gave him his initial opportunity, but it seemed really vague to me and probably could have been an interesting part of the story that wasn't explored.
Oh no worries, you didn't end the conversation, I just got really busy with work and haven't had time to check in for a couple of days.
I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, but that is definitely something I hate as well - "feel free to express yourself...as long as you do it in a way I approve of". I always say that I may not agree with what someone says, but I would fight for their right to say it. I actually really enjoy hearing viewpoints out of my comfort zone, or talking with people who have ideas that contradict my own inclinations. There is something to be learned from literally everybody, and approaching life that way makes it a rather enjoyable experience. </end ramble>
BACK TO THE BOOK
Re: Obinze - I have a hard time internalizing the concept that he may be the author's expression of the "African Ideal Male". It could be because I didn't really like him, haha. I think I also find it hard to internalize that concept because of what I felt I got to "know" of her in her Ted Talk. That's an interesting concept, though, and one I will think on.
Re: Nigerian culture - I read like crazy, and I read very broadly, but I am ashamed to admit that there is SO MUCH about so many cultures that I just have no exposure to. I too really enjoyed the cultural immersion, and it made me feel a little better to hear (erm, read) you write that some of the insight was new for you too. The class structure was absolutely fascinating. I did find it kind of discouraging how pervasive (and accepted?) infidelity was, though. I wonder if that is accurate of the culture of that area in a broad sense, or if it is heavily filtered through the author's own experiences.
Re: the characters - they were definitely the main draw for me too. Scarcely have I seen such rich character development. It usually takes me a bit to realize when I'm reading a book with amazing characters, but the first tip-off for me is usually when I become frustrated or angry with one of them. I found Dike to be one of the most interesting characters of the book. I really enjoyed seeing his character unfold, and the repercussions of all that had happened in his life starting to play out.
Re: Obinze's jaunt in the UK and rise to wealth - yes and yes, I agree with both points you make. I too enjoyed the UK section and found it to be an interesting counterpoint to Ifemelu's experience. It's funny that you mention his abrupt rise to wealth, that was one of my major (only) complaints about the book, the way in which the author glossed over such a pivotal plot point. It seems super unrealistic, but maybe that's true to culture? Maybe the acquisition (and loss) of wealth can feel very volatile to people living in that area?
A couple additional thoughts/questions:
1. I'm not sure if this makes me crazy or not, but I was really annoyed that Obinze just up and left his wife to be with Ifemelu. I'm probably in the minority of readers, but that seemed like a really selfish, cowardly move. (Which is highly ironic, as I left my first husband for reasons that were not entirely dissimilar. Maybe I am viewing his choice through my own lens of cowardice. Oooooh, deep! But I digress.) Then again, is it better for him to live with his daughter, or to show his daughter that people deserve to make decisions that will lead them toward increased happiness? I probably have too many personal biases tangled up in this to analyze clearly, but I was wondering if there was anyone else that had that same reaction.
2. How do you pronounce the names? Do you have any idea? I have no clue. I was saying if-em-el-you in my head, but then started wondering if it was i-FEM-elyou. And do you think it is oh-bins (what I was saying in my head) or something more along the lines of oh-bins-ee?
Cool! My mother was a bleeding heart liberal too. She heard JFK speak on campus when she was a student at the University of Michigan and promptly joined the Peace Corp. She went to East Africa and was a school teacher in Kenya and Uganda for several years! Which makes me even more embarrassed about my lack of knowledge regarding African culture. Plus, she would probably turn over in her grave if she knew that I don't even vote anymore....
But back to the book.
Re: Obinze - First I have to say I think his name is pronounced O-bin-Zee. Because his nickname is "The Zed" and Zed is the English pronunciation of the letter Z, and these kids seemed to be big time anglophiles, I figured the "Zee" sound must be apparent in his name. I might be wrong though.
Second, how could you not like Obinze?? (smiles). I thought he was a stand up dude! And I felt sorry or him through most of the book. Ifemelu kicks him completely to the curb without even a reason, she lives out his dreams of an American life and education. He struggles away in the UK only to get the boot from that country, but still somehow manages to overcome everything and become a successful, if unhappy, (and possibly criminal) business man in Lagos. The only thing he is guilty of is marrying a woman he doesn't love. Oh, and also for being dumb enough to leave her for fickle and flaky Ifemelu! Also, he seemed to truly struggle with breaking up his family.
Re Nigerian Culture - It is unfortunate about infidelity, but that is really a universal issue. I didn't even really look at that as culturally significant to Nigeria. As far as the acceptance, I think that at the higher class levels in any culture you find that acceptance. Bored rich people. Lol. And this is not a political thing, but the Kennedys and Clintons of this country showcased it at our highest national level. Not political because I think probably a lot of people do it. They just got caught/exposed. I think universally it is accepted by some that rich, powerful men are going to fool around.
Re: Dike - Unfortunate name for a boy living in America, which I am surprised the author didn't touch on. I agree with you, I loved this character and wanted to see and here more from him. At the end of the story, after giving up on the main characters, he was the one I wondered about and hoped would turn out alright.
And no I don't think you are crazy for looking at Obinze that way. It was ultimately a selfish act. He seemed to try to justify it using his daughter, but I think that was some BS. I do think that the decision tortured him, which does soften it a little bit for me. I partially blame Ifemelu (If-em-el-ou?)! He wouldn't have left his wife if she had not come waltzing back into his life. And the nerve of her, expecting him to leave his family for her!! Aaarrrghh. She was tough to like. Great character, but hard for me to root for. And like you said earlier, maybe that was the author's aim.
Not for nothin' but I liked Obinze's mom a lot too. If for no other reason than that we share a love for The Heart of The Matter by Graham Greene. One of my favorite books of all time.
I finished the book over the weekend but needed a little time to digest everything so I could put it into words.
To me the two protagonists are the main draw of the book, I kept reading wanting to know what was going to happen next to either of them. Though, to be completely honest, I was more interested in Ifemelu's story than Obinze's.
Re: Obinze he seems rather too perfect, other than taking forever to leave his wife (will come back to this later) there is nothing really in his behaviour and actions that is openly criticised within the book. He has somehow managed become a wealthy land-owner in Nigeria after his forced exit from the UK but it is altogether unclear as to how his sudden rise in the socio-economic scale came to be. His mother doesn't appear to be too pleased with it all, evidenced by her never using the car he bought her as a replacement for her old, but presumably still functioning, vehicle.
I'm in two minds about him leaving his wife to be with Ifemelu. While Ifemelu does seem to long for him and want him around she quite easily banishes him from her life on two occasions (when leaving to the US and back in Nigeria when he doesn't hurry up leaving the missus). On the other hand, regardless of whether he would have left his wife to be with Ifemelu, the marriage clearly wasn't working and it wouldn't seem right for him to stay with her purely for his daughter's sake regardless of whether he was going to be with Ifemelu or not.
Re: Ifemelu. She is difficult to like but I think that her being something of an outsider, both in Nigeria and abroad, makes her an interesting character. Once she has moved to the US and started her blog she is a spectator, continuously being amazed about what appears to be the norm there. For example, her observations on students:
It had to be that Americans were taught from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what. And so she sat stiff-tongued, surrounded by students who were all folded easily on their seats, all flush with knowledge, not of the subject of the classes, but of how to be in the classes. They never said "I don't know."They said, instead, "Im not sure," which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge. And they ambled, these Americans, they walked without rhythm. They avoided giving direct instructions: they did not say "Ask somebody upstairs"; they said "You might want to ask somebody upstairs." When you tripped and fell, when you choked, when misfortune befell you, they did not say "Sorry." They said "Are you okay?" when it was obvious that you were not. And when you said "Sorry" to them when they choked or tripped or encountered misfortune, they replied, eyes wide with surprise, "Oh, it's not your fault." And they overused the word "excited", a professor excited about a new book, a student excited about a class, a politician on TV excited about a law; it was altogether too much excitement. (p. 134)
Another example is about being black in America, something which I cannot relate to at all being ethnically white and born in Europe, however, I found her observations entertaining, this is from her blog:
When you watch television and hear that a "racist slur" was used, you must immediately become offended. Even though you are thinking "But why won't they tell me exactly what was said?" Even though you would like to be able to decide for yourself how offended to be, or whether to be offended at all, you must nevertheless be very offended. (pp. 220-221)
To me, it is more about following the masses and being offended because everyone else is, in that sense it can be applied to a multitude of ethnicities and events or phrases which are not always clear in how they might offend, the cause for offence may have been forgotten over the years, but one is expected to be offended about it regardless. I thought it was an interesting way of looking at things.
Another thing which struck me, and perhaps only because I was watching an item on the news a day or so before my reading the next passage, is the idea of Africa being a continent which, on the whole, is underdeveloped and in dire need of monetary aid from first-world, Western countries. As malnourished infants, natural disasters, and reports on the atrocities that go hand in hand with wars are pretty much everything we (ie the first world countries) tend to see of Africa it is not surprising to see that (the friends of) the family whose children Ifemelu babysits and her American boyfriend Blaine and his circle of friends are all very concerned with the African cause. The former group expresses this through going on missionary missions in Africa or the naive ideologies of Blaine and his friends who
wanted to stop child labour in Africa. They would not buy clothes made by underpaid workers in Asia. They looked at the world with an impractical, luminous earnestness that moved her, but never convinced her." (p. 314).
Finally, returning to the topic of break-ups. Ifemelu's leaving Blaine and Curt, I have to say that I could not be more happy when she did, neither man seemed to understand her at all and they simply did not match. She did not fit in with their friends, either.
Right on. I agree with almost all of that. You reminded me of what I did sort of like about Ifemelu: her observations as a non-American black person in America. Very entertaining indeed. The glaring social differences were interesting. I have always wondered how Africans feel about America, so it was nice to get some insight. I wonder what she would have blogged about Ferguson and "I can't Breathe"?
This book was cool for me. It made me think seriously about race in America which is something I haven't consciously examined in a while. Reading it has been timely too, with all of the stuff going on in this country right now.
I've had too much on this month to get round to reading Americanah unfortunately.
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