Not that anyone is keeping score, but I’m pretty happy to report that I made some really good progress on that end of summer wishlist I shared a couple months back — lots of ice cream was consumed, picnics were enjoyed by the Hudson, we ventured over to Governor’s Island, and I finally got to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I’d heard so many good things about this book, from such a wide array of people — people of different races, ages, male and female. I’d also read the modified version of Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” and felt like she was singing out of my song book. So I was really intrigued to read Americanah for myself and get hip to what everyone else was talking about.
To make what I hoped would be a good book even better, I invited a few of my girlfriends to read along with me and participate in a “virtual book club” to discuss it afterwards. We set a deadline to read the book within a month and locked the virtual meet up into our calendars.
Now mind you, when I picked the book and set the deadline, I had no idea Americanah is nearly 600 pages. [insert that wide-eyed staring emoji here] Luckily, the deadline — and my role as the clueless leader of this whole thing — was a great motivator for me. So whether holding Jameson as he drank his milk or riding the subway or waiting for a takeout order, I was making my way through the book on my phone or iPad (oh, how I love the Kindle app’s ability to sync you to the most current page!).
When the night of the virtual book club arrived, we came together via our computers and a Google hangout and shared our opinions about the book’s characters, storyline, and themes.
One friend who married into an African family really appreciated how the book captured some of the cultural differences she had to learn. Myself and another friend talked about our experiences as the children of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
And we all talked about longing and belonging. About the immigrant story. About hair. About race in America. About identity. About owning our choices. About love.
We laughed a whole lot too.
Here are just a few of my favorite passages from Americanah:
“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself.”
On westerners’ limited understanding of immigrants…
“[They] all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.”
On the intricacies of people…
“Ifemelu watched them, so alike in their looks, and both unhappy people. But Kimberly’s unhappiness was inward, unacknowledged, shielded by her desire for things to be as they should, and also by hope: she believed in other people’s happiness because it meant that she, too, might one day have it. Laura’s unhappiness was different, spiky, she wished that everyone around her were unhappy because she had convinced herself that she would always be.”
On race in America…
“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. They are people with loving families, regular folk who pay taxes.”
To my delight, at the end of our meet up, my friends were eager to pick our next book and get our virtual club together again. Although, there was a request that we pick something a weeee bit shorter. Which I happily obliged. :-)
Have you read Americanah? What did you think?
And if you’re wondering, our latest read is I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi.
Photo of Americanah by @mostprobablyreading.
Kelley HicksOctober 13, 2016 at 12:34 pm
I LOVE Chimamanda. Anything she touches is gold. I also recommend Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. She also has a collection of short stories. I can’t wait for the next thing she releases. Like I need it NOW!!!
Also Americanah has been optioned for screen starring Lupita and David Oyelowo. I am super excited to see this on screen but also terrified that it will be ruined.
Jessica RiceOctober 17, 2016 at 10:57 pm
Ha! Yes, you were one of the people who inspired me to read Americanah, and I’m glad I did. I’ll definitely need to check out her other works as well. I also saw the news about the film when I was researching questions for the book club. I’m really excited to just see how they’ll put it all together.
KimmieOctober 13, 2016 at 2:43 pm
Americanah is one of my favorite books of all time! I’m so glad you like it. It gave me such new perspectives on immigrants and race, as well as hair :) It was amazing!
Jessica RiceOctober 17, 2016 at 10:54 pm
Yes, I agree! She articulated a lot of things that I’ve felt but didn’t have words to describe. I love the wide array of books you read — you’ve definitely given me some new suggestions for my reading list. :-)
MiaOctober 14, 2016 at 1:19 pm
Haven’t read this but it sounds very interesting and I’m up for the challenge (600 pages is nothing to scoff at)… but i loved Luvvi Ajayi’s book though!
Jessica RiceOctober 17, 2016 at 10:53 pm
Yeah, Americanah is worth the long read for all it touches on. I also feel like it speeds up as you become familiar with the characters. I’m enjoying and chuckling to myself as I read Luvvi’s book. :-)