Something New



CURRENT BOOK:  Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Being a prissy white girl and all, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, in which the central character is not only a black woman, but one who actually came from Nigeria to the United States in the present day to go to college.  However, I found it surprisingly engrossing and it even made me question that my education in a Catholic high school and a small liberal arts college full of upper middle class Caucasian students like myself, left me a bit narrow-minded and did not do enough to expose me to other races and cultures.

The story line develops as Ifemelu ruminates about the events of her life while having her hair braided (an expensive and time-consuming process — and I thought I was bad spending two hours and over a hundred dollars to have my unruly mop cut and colored!)  She has broken up with her boyfriend and is preparing to return to Nigeria as she has been homesick and has found a job there.  It appears she is hoping to reconnect with her former romantic interest, Obinze, even though he is now married with children.

At first I questioned this intention on the part of the main character as being less than pragmatic.  However, the second chapter of the book focuses on Obinze after he receives the e-mail which she sent to him on impulse, and it is suggested that his marriage is not entirely happy and he is glad to hear from Ifemelu.

Ifemelu’s thoughts go back to her youth in Nigeria.  It was an interesting look into a culture that I am not familiar with.  Her parents are well-educated instructors, but the family has financial difficulties because of frequent strikes within their profession.  Her aunt is well-off because of being a general’s mistress, but after the general’s sudden death her circumstances abruptly change and she moves to the United States with the general’s illegitimate son and enrolls in medical school.  Ifemelu meets Obinze through friends, and their relationship develops to the point of her befriending his mother and encountering a pregnancy scare.  However, Ifemelu has difficulty completing her education because of the teachers’ strikes so she is encouraged by her friends and family to go to the United States to study.  She obtains a visa, is granted a scholarship, and makes plans to study abroad.  She and Obinze express an intention to keep in contact and wait for each other.

When Ifemelu arrives to stay with her aunt in New York while she seeks work and lodging and begins her first semester, she discovers that the United States is not quite what she thought it would be.  Her aunt’s lifestyle is much changed from the privileged position she had enjoyed in Nigeria.  Ifemelu quickly encounters differing standards which compare unfavorably to those in Nigeria.  She is put off by how people “talk down” to her because of her accent, since she attended English-speaking schools in Nigeria and understands the language perfectly.

Ifemelu feels more at home in Philadelphia, where she has enrolled in college.  However, she quickly becomes concerned about her finances as she has difficulty finding employment and she still needs to pay a portion of her tuition and cover her living expenses.  She becomes desperate enough that she goes back to a coach who wanted to hire someone for sports massage but had more than that on his mind, and the experience traumatizes her and sends her into depression wherein she even loses contact with Obinze.  Fortunately, she finally hears back from another prospective employer whose original hire for a nanny position had not worked out after all.

And that is where I stopped the other day after reading my daily quota of pages during my lunch break, since I was trying to leave myself time to still knit a row or two — I’m antsy to finish the sweater I am making and start a new project.  I am interested to see how the plot of this novel develops.  Although I also checked out The Martian since my husband and I rented the movie on our vacation and very much enjoyed it.  Even more engrossing although I am not usually interested in science fiction, and I wish the author had written more!  As far as Adichie, I have it on good authority from a co-worker that her other writings are good but do not measure up to Americanah.


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