Over the last month, I had the chance to read Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam thanks to the kindness of Harper Collins and Karina @AFirePages. As an avid Ibi Zoboi fan and an admirer of the tenacity of the Exonerated Five, getting an ARC of this book was one of the highlights of my year.
Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam book follows the story of Amal, a sixteen-year-old Black artist, who is convicted of a crime of aggravated assault against a White boy. But, Amal’s real crime stems from being born Black.
Thus, when readers see Amal claiming his innocence in court and being convicted to a harsh sentence at a young age, it hurts. As a minority reader, you will more than likely not only remember Dr. Yusef and the Exonerated Five’s case, but probably can also relate to Amal’s plight because you remember the a loved one or friend who’s also experienced harsh sentencing and lost years behind bars.
What I enjoyed most about this #OwnVoice novel in verse is that it is not only raw and real, but it feels honest. Amal is a character that I saw my brother, cousins, and nephews in. He is a boy who has high hopes, but gets painted as a monster by society instead of embraced for his art and potential.
The White educators and lawyers in his life masquerade as these Anti-racist figures and do-gooders, but when their feet are held to the fire, they act in their own self-interest.
Zoboi and Dr. Salaam’s book is an essential read, and I hope that you also pick it up and read it alongside Just Mercy by Bryan and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Yet, this group is frequently under attack and lauded as “leeches” on American resources even while they are recruited to keep America running smoothly by doing tasks that others won’t or can’t do. This is often done for little to no pay. With the current administration’s smear campaign against immigration, it’s refreshing to read stories by authors with firsthand experience of the true labor that goes into immigrating in the anthology, Come On In.
The anthology was edited by Adi Alsaid and is comprised of fourteen authors who hail from a variety of global backgrounds ranging from Fiji to Ecuador. I loved this anthology because each author shows that it takes courage and tenacity to leave the world you once knew behind to embrace a new life.
Likewise, each author has their own unique voice and tells their story from different vantage points of immigrating to America. For instance, some writers speak of the pain that comes with confronting TSA when you arrive in America and ICE if you are unfortunate enough to be deported. Other authors in the anthology tell of being told that they’re moving, but their older siblings are being left behind because they weren’t approved for a visa. Still, in other stories, the author presents first-generation American born children who struggle with building an identity in-between the proverbial hyphen of their parents’ native land and the American country they grew up in.
All these stories that Alsaid has edited together show that the immigrant experience, like everything else, cannot be told in a single story. Even within the same family, the story and one’s outlook on being an immigrant can vary.
This anthology is an excellent initial resource for anyone who has questions about what it is like for people who make the journey to leave their homelands and move to a new country. The stories in this collection will force readers to face their assumptions about who immigrants are.
If you go into this collection with an open mind, the stories will force you to look deeper into the question of why people choose to leave their homes, and if there even is a choice for some people. Likewise, for readers who love good storytelling, this anthology is perfect because of the nuanced viewpoints presented in the collection.
Since I was a child, reading has been one of my favorite past times. When I read a good book, it sits with me for a long time and becomes a part of who I am. The ideas that I have gleaned from reading certain books have helped color my opinion on topics, like respectability politics, social issues, along with many other topics. Since we don’t have anything else to do during this #QuarantineSeason, I decided to share my favorites books with you all!
Tell me if you have read any of these books in the comments below!
1. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples: I remember having to read this book in fifth grade and being so transfixed by Shabanu’s story. Shabanu is a Pakistani girl of about 12 or 13 who lives in the Cholistan desert with her nomadic family. Growing up tending her herd of camels she always knew she’d marry young, but as fate would have it, her betrothal comes muchearlier than she expects. Shabanu is married to a man that is twice her age after a chaotic event takes place when her family visits her actual betrothed. Staple’s book has the type of storyline that sticks with you well beyond you finishing the book. Even though I read the other two books in this series, I would still recommend this book out of the whole series as the one that is most riveting.
2.Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling once said that, “no matter how old you get, the world of Harry Potter will always be waiting for you when you return.” As corny as this sounds, it is the truth. I frequently reread this series from beginning to end and always get emotional even though I know what’s going to happen. Regardless, my emotions always slip away from me when I read the 6th book in the series. I love the back story that Rowling gives to why Lord Voldemort is the way he is and why their is a rivalry between Harry’s father and Professor Snape. If I had to only pick one book from the series as my all-time favorite, this would definitely be the one. I never get tired of this book.
3. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss: The thing you’ll quickly learn about me is that I’m a tad sentimental and a sucker for quotable things or things that give some insight into the human experience. I love this book by Dr. Seuss because it makes me feel like I’m not alone in my journey to that great beyond we all call adulthood. This book is usually something that you give to a person who’s graduating or just moving up another level in their life. I love the simplicity in the Dr.’s rhymes and the overall messages in the books. The artwork in this book also lends itself to the unique wackiness that can only be found in a Dr. Seuss book. This book is good for people of all ages and something that never goes out of style.
4. Friday Nights At Honeybee’s by Andrea Smith: I picked this book up on a whim in undergrad at my university’s bookstore and fell deeply in love with the story during my first reading. The book follows two women as they migrate individually to Harlem in the 1960’s until the point where they meet at Honeybee’s, a home for the Black artistic crowd during this era. The two women, Viola and Forestine are both running from their own personal demons. Viola is a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter who gets ran out of her small town by her Church family and Forestine is a woman who’s only dream is to become a singer. In Smith’s story, the recreation of Harlem in the 1960’s is beyond believable and the storyline immediately sucked me in. I’d recommend to all lovers of Harlem and jazz music or to anyone who loves The Color Purple by Alice Walker or the Sugar duology by Bernice McFadden.
5. The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman: We’ve all been born in skin that we don’t always feel comfortable in. To make matters worse, we may often get told, “oh you would be pretty if…” or “honey, why don’t you do x, y, and z to yourself” by some brainwashed individual who has been sold a one dimensional view on what beauty is.
In the case of Emma Lou, the hue of her skin is what keeps her from being considered beautiful by others in her family and race. Born as a dark-skinned African-American in the Harlem Renaissance period, Emma Lou is frequently told to modify her skin tone to fit in with society’s concept of what beauty.
I personally love this book because of the raw emotions that Thurman lets spill onto the pages of the novel. Growing up as a dark-skinned girl myself, I can understand the feelings that Emma Lou has when it comes to life and her struggle to come of age in an era when blacks were not necessarily as accepting of their skin tone as they should have been. Yet, don’t be detoured from reading this novel if your not that into African-American history, it’s a good read for anybody who enjoys coming of age stories as well.
6.Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree: This particular book falls under my top picks not only because it is a good book, but because of the way it came to me. Tyree’s book was a staple read amongst middle school girls when I was in 6th grade. Flyy Girl was secretly passed back and fourth between us girls like it was the ultimate study guide and each girl in turn would read it and pass it on to the next girl in line. As an adult, this book doesn’t hold nearly as much magic for me, but I still keep it in my list of faves because it reminds me of a much more innocent time. The book itself isn’t exactly child friendly because of certain scenes where the main character partakes in adult “cardio” exercises yet, the novel itself is about the main character, Tracy’s coming of age and learning who she is on her own terms. While I did read this book at a fairly young age, I would caution other young girls to do so under the pretense of being an observer of Tracy’s story opposed to using it as an all out manual for living life in the fast lane. If you love this book, you need to read The Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah.
7. The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee: Action, racial commentary, fight scenes, wise cracking, and an urban setting are all a part of Greenlee’s masterpiece. I read this book this semester for my seminar on African-American Fiction after growing up hearing my parents discuss it frequently. Greenlee’s novel has a tumultuous back story. Turned down by American publishers and eventually having to go to Britain to publish this book due to its graphic and raw nature, Greenlee’s book was lost in the shuffle of great African-American fiction. This book is a fictional account of Dan Freeman, an ex-CIA African-American operative as he fights to exact guerrilla warfare on his oppressors. The novel takes place in the 60’s and follows Freeman as he seeks to educate a gang of urban teens on having love for themselves and their race. It was eventually turned into a movie and then, banned by the government upon its release. It has only recently been reintroduced into print and DVD (If you want to watch it, also check out the movie on YouTube).This novel is not for the faint of heart or for those who are easily offended by racial slurs. I would recommend it as a serious read or just as a thriller selection for any and everyone.
8. Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee: One of my ultimate guilty pleasures is the Indian culture. I truly enjoy reading novels that are based around Indian or Indian American women’s experiences. Here, Banerjee writes about Lina, a woman who loses her fiancee in an accident and works as a matchmaker. On a trip home to India, Lina’s Auntie tries to set her up with some random Indian man at her cousin’s wedding and she panics blurting out to her aunt that she is already engaged. This sends her family into a tizzy and Lina is stuck trying to find a man to fill the spot of her fictional fiancee. Enter in Raja, an Indian prince who hires Lina to find his brother a wife and sparks start to fly from there. Since buying it, I reread this book at least once a year. Even though it’s predictable, I love the mushy romance and the way that Banerjee deals with grieving. If you love chick-lit I’d definitely recommend you read this book.
9. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen: I was a HUGE fan of Sarah Dessen growing up. (Don’t make that face at me…I know, I know 😑). To fill this final spot, I had to delve back into my bookshelf and weigh the pros and cons of each of her novels to decide which book is my top fave of all time. For me, this position would have to go to The Truth About Forever due to it’s ability to draw me in every time I reread it. This novel follows Macy, a girl seeking perfection to hold her life together after her father dies. On a whim, Macy takes a summer job with Wish, a catering company. Here, she befriends Wes, a boy who has also lost a parent and they play an endless game of Questions where each person has to answer the others question truthfully until someone forfeits. Dessen’s books have been called cheesy and repetitive by some however, I find them to be comforting. I especially love the Question Game and can’t wait to play it with some willing person in the future.
What are your favorite books? Tell me in the comments below.
“I think, more than anything, people like to feel superior to others… And when people feel superior, it makes it harder for them to see the problems just beneath the surface. They don’t want to believe them, to face them, because if they did, can they really claim to be superior anymore?”― Rebecca Schaeffer
We are in the middle of a global health pandemic. It would be nice if this moment of fear made us all more empathetic & understanding of those who differ from ourselves, but to say this, would be a lie. For, there are always people that will take any excuse to succumb to fear. When this happens, xenophobia runs rampant with little prompting.
In WWII, the choice to confine Japanese citizens into internment camps came after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This Executive Order authorized the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and communities within the United States. In response to this removal, the court case, Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), was filed to contest the removal of these citizens by Fred Korematsu, 23, a Japanese-American citizen that was arrested for not complying with the order. Korematsu later became a national civil rights hero appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the U.S. government intelligence agencies had hid key documents from the Court causing Korematsu’s conviction to bee overturned.
Similar to Korematsu, John Okada uses his novel to tell the story of Ichiro, a nisei or second-generation Japanese American man, who gets drafted to serve in WWII. This character resist on the principle of not wanting to renounce his Japanese heritage or his American citizenship. The story progresses from here and readers are able to see WWII through the eyes of a Japanese-American.
The title of Okada’s book stems from Question 27 of the “loyalty questionnaire.” Okada shows how the act of “othering,” or placing a minority in a position where they feel as if they must choose between their ethnic culture & “American” culture can create a fracturing of the person’s psyche causing emotionally, mentally, & physically duress.
Okada’s novel asks readers, specifically white readers, to place themselves in the role of a minority person and to think, “how would I feel if my existence were seen as a threat?” While this book isn’t about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is about how Asian people are often perceived as a danger to America. Thanks to continued feelings of Yellow Peril, we are now seeing people shroud their fear of getting sick with racist comments & acts toward Asians.
If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” —James Baldwin
When I was teen, I read this book called, Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia, and in it, there’s a part that talks about how one member of the main character’s family is entrusted with remembering the ancestral history in it’s entirety. When this person dies, he/she/they must pass on their family’s history to the next generation until it’s time for them to relinquish their role. As I came to the end of The Deep by Rivers Solomon’s book, I was put in mind of this practice of remembering.
As the descendant of American Chattel Slavery, I am many generations removed from my ancestral home. There is no one who can remember who we were or where we came from before my ancestors landed on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina chained up in the hull of a ship. Sadly, there is no one who can really tell us how our forefather and foremothers ended up on those ships to begin with. I am much like the lost mer-people that Solomon’s main character, Yetu, has the task with “reminding” about their history.
“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”—Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
On #InternationalWomensDay, I want to give a hearty shout out to all the women in the world that are taking up space and existing in the world. Give yourself a hug for all you’ve done and will do in this coming week!
In February, I read Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins. As a total read, this book was a hard one to get through due to subject matter, but also because of the pacing and choice of medium. Perkins writes this book as if it were a script in omnipotent third person narration.
The general premise is that there are two teenagers, Kat and Ravi, who are both questioning their current existence and eventually travel to Kolkata, India to do mission work with an organization that traffics women. Kat is a mixed race girl of Afro-Latinx and white heritage. Her story starts from the point of her being sexually assaulted and forced to leave her school in California and move to Boston as a way of getting away from environmental triggers that remind her of her attack. Sadly, her story will be familiar to many women in the #MeTooMovement or #TimesUp era.
Ravi on the other hand is an adopted Indian boy that lives in Boston with his white parents, who adore him. Ravi has the feeling that there is something missing. Quiet, and seemingly only good with fixing cars, he is a background player in his own life. Determined to find the mother that abandoned him, Ravi attempts signs up for the mission trip in India and it leads him into a better understanding of himself and how he fits into his world.
While each of Perkins’ characters are well-written, I went in expecting to love the book, but ended up feeling uncomfortable reading it due to the odd choice to make the story appear as if it was a movie with each chapter heading. I have read other books from this author and loved them, but this one just wasn’t for me. I definitely could imagine it as a movie though.
I gave it 3 stars.
Where there any books in your February reading list that you would have turned into a movie if you had the chance?
Shange’s choreopoem was very interesting to read. In the beginning I was confused by Shange’s abbreviations and had to use guess work to figure out what she was saying, but as the choreopoem went on, I got better at discerning what she was saying since she frequently repeated certain words like cd (could) or waz (was). Thank goodness for this because the action in this choreopoem speeds by and if you’re not on point, you’ll easily miss something. Since this was a choreopoem, the actual character building isn’t really meant to be full blown. In addition, Shange’s motives for creating the characters is meant more so for them to represent ideas than for them to actually have personalities.
While I did like this choreopoem, I would have to say without actually seeing a visual interpretation of it (be it a theatrical production, the tv movie, or the film adaptation), one could get lost fairly easily. Since I read this choreopoem for an assignment and watched Tyler Perry’s film adaptation in tangent with reading Shange’s work, I have to say, I actually got a better feeling for what Shange was doing with her work from watching Perry’s movie. Without seeing Shange’s work in action, I would have just chalked this read up as an overblown classic, but the visual representation made this piece one of my favorite…movies that is. I know this is harsh, but I still felt as if Shange’s work would be better off packaged as simple poems in written form opposed to as a single unit that is meant to be read as a full chorepoem/play. And yes, I am aware that Shange admits that she did write these poems singuraly and later preformed then as a collective unit however, I must go off of how it was presented to me in it’s published form.
Perry’s film on the other hand was OUT-STANDING! At the time this film came out, I was under the impression that it would be similar to his other works and that the film itself was scary since it deals with subject matter like, abortions and rape. However, I was pleasently surprised to find that Perry handled everything tastefully. The actresses he chose to represent each character was phenomenal and fitting. I especially enjoyed Loretta Devine as the lady in green and Anika Noni Rose as the lady in yellow. These two poured their hearts into their characters and it shows.
Out of all the poems though, my favorites from both, the choreopoem and the film would have to be “somebody almost walked off with all my stuff” and “no assistance” performed by Loretta Devine in Perry’s film and “my love is too…,” which was performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem. from the film version and “dark phrases,” which was also performed by all the colored ladies in the film and choreopoem in the written form.
This choreopoem is something I would recommend that everybody read and watch at least once. It’s definitely gives one food for thought. But, beware, viewer discretion is advised.Shange’s work isn’t for a younger audience, it’s better suited for individuals who can truly grasp what is being talked about in the poems.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the Tyler Perry film. Have a look and tell me below if you have ever seen the movie or the choreopoem performed.
I also love the way Ntozake Shange critics Tyler Perry’s movie in this discussion too. It offers a lot of insight on the the final production of the movie that adds another layer to what transpired in the movie.
I’d like to preface this review with the disclaimer that I do not mean to be jerky. However, my feelings in this review come from a place of wonderment at the state of emotion that come from bringing certain topics up in our society.
That being said, something that I find so interesting about stories that deal with illnesses is that they seem to skirt the issues of being sick and the “perks” that terminally ill people seem to receive. However, John Green stands stoically in his authorship and calls us all out on our bull****.
Both, Augustus and Hazel are made into optimistic if not angsty teenagers who are speeding toward oblivion furiously reaching out for a lifeline to keep them tethered to this world. While,I respect Green’s writing style and story, I found that the characters themselves are not entirely new to literature. Hazel becomes the symbolic character that gets left behind once her boyfriend gets spirited off (no pun intended) to the after world and Augustus is the character who dies before his time. Together, their story while cute in some spots and heart-wrenchingly sad in others is not one that was fresh enough for me to fall down in total awe upon it’s ending.
Yet, I can say that I was enticed by the idea that two people could go on this sort of journey together to excavate a story’s ending from their favorite author half-way across the world. Green produces this adventure in a way that’s so realistic that I found myself seriously thunderstruck when I got to the scene where Peter Van Houten denies these two cancer-ridden teenagers their last grand “wish.” At this point in the story, I came to the conclusion that maybe what people like Augustus and Hazel really need is not so much our pity for them but, our understanding that they are really just individuals who are just like their “healthy” contemporaries who are searching for life’s answers. Therefore, the one thing that seriously struck me in this novel is that people like Augustus and Hazel are no different than you or I. Like us, their death is inevitable. However, unlike us, they have a ballpark figure of when their final days are going to draw to a close.
Overall, I found the book to be an interesting and funny read with a light romance laced throughout the plot. I would recommend the book to others as a conversation starter but, not as a book that needs to be continuously read to understand it.
The thing about classics of any kind is that you never know what you’re going to get when you read or watch them. You can look up all the reviews you want, but until you’ve cracked open the book or movie for yourself you can’t be sure if any classic is right for you.
I have often heard people gush over Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin In The Sun and told myself there was no rush to read it on my own because I would eventually have to read it for some class. Sadly, this book never actually made it onto the required reading list for any of my classes so it was left up to me to read it at my leisure. This summer, I finally had a chance to pick the play up from my mother’s collection while I waited for my own boxes to be shipped from Pittsburgh. My ultimate reaction was that this play was nothing like I expected to be. Instead, it was infinitely better.
A Raisin In The Sun follows the Youngers, an African-American family living in South Side Chicago sometime between the end of WWII and the present. The Younger family includes Mama/Lena, a retired domestic worker;Walter/Brother, her son who has big dreams of making it; Ruth, Walter’s wife; Ruth and Walter’s son, Travis; and Beneatha, Walter’s younger sister who wants to become a doctor. As the play begins, the Youngers are all anticipating getting the insurance check that covered Walter Sr., Mama’s husband who has recently died.
For once, I can actually agree with the general consensus and say that this particular play is worthy of the title of classic. Everything in Hansberry’s play felt extremely relevant and real to me, from the characters who were trying to figure out how to spend their new found fortune to the themes that Hansberry brought up about African-American’s place in American society. Even on paper, the characters’ emotions and actions are mapped out and shown so well that watching a film or live performance for Hansberry’s work was actually unnecessary. I personally enjoyed each aspect of the play and could see how certain issues such as, the idea of the black man’s ambitions being unrecognized or the questioning of whether blacks are better off assimilating into the American culture vs. African culture are still relevant. Yet, when I watched the 1961 film adaptation, I wasn’t necessarily as impressed by it like I was with the play.
Each person in the family has big dreams of what they want to do with the money when they get it, however, Walter is the most vocal about his plans. When the check finally comes, Mama takes the money and buys a house in an all-white neighborhood with half of it and gives the rest to Walter with strict instructions to put half in the bank for Beneatha’s medical education and use the other half for whatever he sees fit. Unfortunately, Walter does the opposite and things start to unravel from there.
For starters, the movie added and deleted key scenes that were important to the overall message of the play. In one deleted scene, Beneatha cuts her permed hair off and everyone is shocked by her actions. This depiction of going natural was empowering in the play. In the film, this scene is cut so that instead of physically shedding what is implied to be her “assimilated American habits,” Beneatha just goes into a monologue about how she will not take on anymore American habits and will instead identify more with her African roots. In my opinion, this scene would have been amazing if it was acted out properly by Diana Sands who played Beneatha.
Likewise, the scene where the Youngers’ neighbor comes in to borrow cleaning products before the family moves and warns/reminds Mama that going into an all-white neighborhood to live is dangerous for the times. This particular scene while not as profound as Beneatha’s hair cutting scene would have been good to show that not only whites were weary of the trouble that could come from blacks and whites living together. Yet, directors of the film chose to show only the white viewpoint instead in the visit that Mr. Linder who acts as the “welcome committee” to the Youngers’ new neighborhood makes to the family’s South Side apartment.
Even though the film did delete these two scenes and add scenes where Walter is sitting in a bar or shown chauffeuring his white boss around, I did somewhat enjoy it because of Sidney Poitier’s acting in the role of Walter. Out of all the actors in the film, he gave the best performance to me. His emotions were raw and he embodied the idea of being a man who the world had beaten down on to a T. Seeing him play Walter alongside Ruby Dee who played the role of Ruth was interesting since these two seemed to have good on-screen chemistry. While I did enjoy Diana Sands in her role as Beneatha, I was a little annoyed with her character in general in both the play and the book. However, I did chalk this up to being just part of the acceptable emotions that Hansberry’s play was meant to draw out of me.
I would definitely recommend the play and the 1961 movie adaptation. I eventually hope to get a chance to watch the 2008 film adaptation to see how Sean “P. Diddy” Combs acted in his role as Walter. Not to mention Phylicia Rashad is one of my favorite actresses so I would love to see her in the role of Mama as well.
I gave the play 5 stars and the movie 3 stars.
(Originally posted on my Blogger on June 17, 2013.)
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve been struggling to write a review for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah for the past week due to mixed feelings about it. Upon finishing it, I was equal parts content and frustrated with the book. While it met my expectations in a way, I was also let down by certain aspects of the novel. I end up giving this book 4 stars due to a lackluster ending and the general feeling that Adichie only meant her characters to be mouthpieces to voice her feelings on different cultural and political topics.
At its heart, Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a book about various immigrants who are trying to work their way through discovering what it means to be a part of the countries they’ve immigrated to while also holding on to their original cultures. Adichie’s story is told through the perspective of Ifemelu, a Nigerian blogger who has lived in America for thirteen years and Obinze, a wealthy Nigerian business man who still lives in Nigeria. From Ifemelu and Obinze’s perspective, the reader learns about different race issues that go on in America, the way the Nigerian government works, and hears the stories of different people who have settled abroad or come home to live in Nigeria after living abroad.
As the novel begins, Ifemelu is set to return home to Nigeria after her hiatus in America and decides to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. The two previously lost contact once Ifemelu went to America to finish college. By the time that Ifemelu reaches out to him, Obinze has moved on with his life and is married. Adichie makes it very obvious to the reader that the two characters have built separate lives from the ones that they once lived as carefree children who were oblivious to the ups and downs of Nigerian politics.
The pacing of this story was fairly good. The author was able to say a great deal about the Nigerian culture while also providing adequate details about each of the main characters’ lives. There were times in the book where the background history about Nigeria became long winded, but it never got to the point where I felt the need to put the book down. One thing that hindered the overall pacing of the story, though, was Adichie’s habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu’s blog at different intervals in each chapter. While some of the post were interesting and thought provoking, others just seemed awkward in their placing or unnecessary altogether.
In terms of characters, Adichie creates solid ones to tell her story without making them seem overly preachy. Ifemelu’s character is pegged as someone who “tells it like it is” and isn’t afraid to call others out on their BS. Behind this character’s tough exterior, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America and Nigeria and confront different issues that plague African immigrants and African-Americans. This bluntness in the character as she tries to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as “the other” in America can also cause readers to label Ifemelu as a callused individual. Yet, Adichie makes it a point to eventually peel back this character’s layers and expose her reasoning behind each negative assessment of American and Nigerian culture.
On the other hand, Obinze is a character that is a dreamer at heart and is initially hell-bent on making his way to America to live out his fictional dream of “making it.” Mentally, he believes that life can only begin once he makes it to this glorified Mecca. Obinze is an individual who also scrutinizes the immigrant’s life, but unlike Ifemelu, his character makes it a point to do so from the role of an unbiased onlooker opposed to a blunt critic. It would seem that his longing to become a part of the Western world keeps him from being overly harsh in his judgement of “the other’s” role in society in places like England and America.
With the building of Ifemelu and Obinze’s character, Adichie creates a storyline that holds the potential to be electric once it hits its climax, but it ends up falling flat for me due to its lack of originality. To me, this is extremely sad because for a good 3/4 of her book, Adichie makes powerful statements about race relations in America and politics in Nigeria. However, when it comes time to wrap up the loose ends of Ifemelu and Obinze’s love life, she creates a weak generic ending that feels dry and so unlike what her reader’s expect of her characters. In this way, I feel as if Adichie did more telling than actual showing in her book. I was truly interested in the cultural topics she spoke about, but by the end of the book, I got the feeling that she could’ve condensed the actual love story of Ifemelu and Obinze into a mere 150 to 200 pages and written another book about her feelings on race in America/ Immigration laws in America and England/ Nigerian politics.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nigerian culture or who wants to learn what the American or English culture looks like from a non-white immigrant’s perspective. However, if you aren’t interested in hearing a lot of back history to either of these culture’s, I would recommend reading something else.