On Americanah and Observations of an American

Several weeks ago on the NPR show Fresh Air, I caught parts of Terry’s Gross’s interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, talking about Adichie’s book Americanah. The author sounded pretty cool and, as she was someone I had never heard of before, I thought it was nice that I was able to find out about up and coming authors from Fresh Air.

And then I realized that the show was initially broadcast a year ago. Americanah is now on paperback, hence the rebroadcast.

And then I found out that Adichie is the author of a few critically acclaimed books. Half of a Yellow Sun was even just turned into a movie with Chiwetel Ejiofor.

So yes, I felt like quite the simpleton for not knowing anything about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi before.

I picked up a copy of Americanah (like a real copy and not just through my tablet!) and I really got into it. A few posts ago, I wrote about books that were Pakistani narratives and so with Americanah, it was nice to mix things up, learning about a culture I never knew anything about while taking in the main character’s observations about Americans and life in the United States.

Americanah is about Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who comes to the United States for college. The book begins during Ifemelu’s last days in the United States after 13 years, as she is going back to Lagos in Nigeria. From there, Americanah jumps back to Ifemelu’s life growing up in Nigeria, showing us her parents and her relationship with her boyfriend Obinze, and also through her years in the States, first as she struggled financially, and then later as she found her footing. Despite becoming seemingly successful, she eventually decides to back to to Nigeria.

In the American framework, Ifemelu becomes “black” whereas all her life she considered herself “Nigerian”. Her observations from the perspective of this newly minted identity eventually leads to her create an anonymous blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black that becomes quite popular.

Reading about Ifemelu and her blog and race made me think about my own blog and how much I write about race and culture.

I was thinking that I need to be more aware of my surroundings, how people talk and interact with me, and that maybe all of those interactions and behaviors and my own observations of life around me might actually fuel some blog entries and really help formulate how it is to be American Muslim and Pakistani all at once here in the United States. I don’t think I do too much of that here.

I had these thoughts as I finished up my reading for the time being as the BART train I was on pulled into the station that’s right by work. I walked the few minutes to my building, pondering whether or not I’ve missed some stories because of how much I just don’t seem to notice anything.

I was still thinking about this as I got into the elevator in my building, standing in the back to allow for everyone else to get in there as we made our way up to our respective floors. I was watching the little screen in the elevator, reading whatever news popped up on the screen, when the lady next to me, who I had never seen before, said: “I bet your hair is down to here,” while touching a point on my back.

Not pointing, touching.

Some lady I didn’t even know.

I said something back which indicated how close she was and then said something about a haircut, and her face gave way to a look of surprise. Why, I have no idea.

While I wasn’t rude or anything and the action didn’t bother me, I just thought it was so odd that a stranger thinks it’s perfectly okay to touch someone they don’t even know. Okay fine, it was only my back, but it was still weird, especially for someone like me who really values my personal space and isn’t really even one to give out hugs freely. To friends.

It’s not really a big deal, I admit, but it gave me a few ideas of what it is I should look out for in regards to material for blog posts. I’m hoping to view this as a beginning of an exercise in which I really try to be more aware of everything in general – how I interact with people, how people interact with me, whether or not my culture and/or religion color how I perceive things, and so on.

Anyways, Americanah. Besides being an entertaining read, the book made me think about being an American in an entirely new way. Here’s to new perspectives and insights.

2 thoughts

  1. I read it a while back and like you it was my first foray into reading Nigerian -American fiction, apparently this is a new genre we will be seeing a lot of publication from. I enjoyed it specially the part about her going back to Nigeria and observing the changes her country has gone through while she was abroad.
    It’s been 11 years since I went back to Pakistan for a visit and I find myself reading this part wistfully – knowing Pakistan has changed a lot since 2003.

    Keeping up with the theme of ‘Going back’ I have recently finished a satifying read ‘The Exiles Return’ by Elisabeth de Waal, an upublished novel wirtten in 1950s that was recently published by the author’s grandson who himself wrote the best seller ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’.

    Any chance that ‘The Exiles Return’ is in your TBR pile? I would like to read your take on it.

    Wasalm, Hina

    1. Salaam,

      Thanks for adding your comments to the book and thanks for the book recommendation! I hadn’t heard of the book but will try to check it out – I have a ton of books on the “TBR” pile! It’ll cool to expand my horizons though :)

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