Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give is an incredible story about the ways a black teenage girl navigates through different areas in her life after witnessing an act of police brutality. It is easy to see which parts are directly influenced by recent events (rest in peace Eric Garner and Edward Crawford) and the Black Lives Matter movement which helps demonstrate how this is both a modern story and yet a sadly ageless tale for black Americans. Empathetic and heartfelt, I hope this book provides its readers a better understanding of systemic race and, more importantly, a call to act for a more just world.
“You can’t make anything better,” he says, heavily. “The world is what it is.
Unless you destroy it and start all over again, there’s no changing it.”
The Fifth Season; N. K. Jemisin.
This book is so good, I’m mad at past me for not being able to get through the prologue twice.
Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie is well known for her writing and her TED Talks (the latter was sampled in Beyonce’s “***Flawless“). In my desire to 1) read more books 2) by authors who are not white men and 3) my growing fascination with Beyonce, I decided to read Americanah.
Americanah follows Ifemelu growing up in Nigeria, especially with her relationship with childhood sweetheart Obinze. She and Obinze drift apart as she adjusts to immigrant life in the United States, seeing various perspectives on race as a non-American black person. Sometimes the point of view switches to Obinze, as he tries to follow Ifemelu to the States but ends up being an undocumented immigrant in London and his subsequent return to an evolving Nigeria. Eventually the two reunite, but so much time and history has passed. Are they able to maintain the connection they once had?
In the first thirty-five pages of Adichie’s novel, there are observations on classism, colorism, the pros and cons of discovering a fellow countryman, the relationship between your American knowledge and how long you’ve been in the country and the influence of religion. It’s all done in a breathtaking and in a deceptively simple way. The novel is expansive, allowing glimpses of Nigerian regionalism, city vs. village, what motivates the desire to assimilate, the desire to be the exceptional (even amongst black people), how white people seem to view Africans, immigrants, and American blacks, how there can be different perspectives of race from a non-American black perspective, and how America can change you when you return to the homeland.
As a second-generation immigrant, I find myself nodding along to some of the subtlety of these ideas and concepts. It’s complicated and difficult to communicate but Adichie continually finds the right combination of words over and over. We all have our own unique, individual stories of identity and how culture can make us and unmake us, but there are enough common experiences to understand the alienation, even when we seem to easily blend in.
For example, Ifemelu struggles once she leaves her support system in New York City. Adichie describes Ifemelu’s despair and while it is easy to view it as depression, I appreciated that there was some pushback from other characters. “Americans like to think everyone is sick” sort of thing. I do not write this to belittle mental illness, but to illustrate that the concept of mental illness is still a foreign one and is sometimes difficult to accept. Some Asians do not consider mental illness to be a genuine and serious concern, and that has been harmful, especially to many Asian-Americans. The novel doesn’t go into this too much in-depth, but I was glad it was able to show how it can be a difficult concept for some people to grasp.
This is the first book in a long time that I have wanted to buy and keep on my shelf so I could reread it at any time. It’s been awhile since I was that engrossed in a book. Although the novel’s ending is oddly abrupt, Americanah provides a vivid, immersive world with perspectives I don’t have access to but can easily relate to. It’s a wonderful experience.