There are two central themes to this book; it is both a love story and an in-depth look at what it is to be black, today, in America and in Nigeria. I...moreThere are two central themes to this book; it is both a love story and an in-depth look at what it is to be black, today, in America and in Nigeria. It also looks at how it is to be young in today’s world – a world of computers and cellphones and blogs and, on a more general level, how people interrelate with each other.
Different readers will be drawn to different aspects of the novel. The love story did not draw me in. It begins with a “coming of age” attraction between two teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. The story goes full circle and ends on the same note, back in Nigeria and back with these two, Obinze and Ifemelu. Will they find each other at the end? And if they do, at what cost to others? That this aspect of the novel did not attract me is not to say that it was poorly written, but only that my interests lay elsewhere, given my particular past experiences and age.
What did interest me is Adichie’s penetration of race, racial bigotry and inequality. Obinze and Ifemelu are separated. Ifemelu goes to the America with her aunt, but after 9/11 Obinze cannot get into America and immigrates to London. Political turmoil in Nigeria and the impossibility of getting a good education at home is what forces both abroad. Both experience how it is to be without family in a foreign country as an immigrant, Obinze an illegal immigrant. Ifemelu learns what it is to be an African Black in North America. Both flounder. The central themes remain love relationships and race.
As with all books it is the reader’s own experiences that influence how one perceives a book’s content. How do I compare my own immigrant experiences with those portrayed in the novel and why are they different? To what extent are blacks discriminated against in the US today in comparison to Europe? I look with admiration at the US and think how wonderful it is that Obama, a black could become president. That does say something, no matter how you twist or turn it. That Adichie isn’t satisfied, that she reveals to me, a non-black, the inequalities that still remain is only admirable. Through her characters you come to understand on a ground level the inequalities that remain. You understand on a personal level. One example: in all the women’s magazines there are article after article about what eye shadow works best for brown or blue or green eyes, but what if you have black eyes? There are full discussions of what to do with straight, wavy or curly hair, but where is there help for kinky hair? Yeah, there STILL isn’t total equality, total acceptance of all our differences. I like that the book made me more aware of what is to be black on a daily basis. There is also the difference of being a Black-American and the difference of being a Non-American Black. Being colored, Hispanic versus African versus Asian, are all different. A Black-American lives with the baggage of historical discrimination in the US.
Narration of the audiobook by Adjoa Andoh is excellent, albeit a bit difficult for those, like me, who are not accustomed to the many different black accents. I had to listen carefully. I am glad I had a chance to do this through this audiobook.
I believe how you will react to this book will be determined by the theme that most draws your attention. You may be enthralled by the love story or like me just interested in current racial and immigrant injustices. (less)
The author of this egalley, Christie Watson, which I have received from NetGalley, is born and raised in Nigeria. In reading this nove...more NO SPOILERS!!!!!
The author of this egalley, Christie Watson, which I have received from NetGalley, is born and raised in Nigeria. In reading this novel I am thrown into a world that feels completely foreign to me. The story follows the experiences of Blessing, a twelve-year-old. She moves, with her mother and fourteen-year old brother Ezikiel, from Lagos to a "bush compound" near Warri in the Niger Delta. They are to live with her grandparents after her parents' marriage dissolves. Her new life is as foreign to her as it is to me. From what she and her brother thought was security, a tightly knit family and her friends at The International School for Future Leaders, sparkling clean with marble floors, running water and electricity, life has changed from day to night. In her grandparents' compound there is no electricity, there is no running water and the sanitary conditions are deplorable both in the compound and in their new school, The High Ghost Secondary School. The toilets as holes in the ground surrounded by an iridescent, shimmering, blue rug of…. of what? Flies! Life is very difficult and dangerous for Ezikiel too. He has asthma and life-threatening allergies. With money at best short, if not totally non-existent, medicines and necessary foods are also non-existent. There is another threat constantly menacing, the foreign oil companies - oil spills, ecological damages, the contrasts between the haves and the have-nots and the flagrant misuse of power. There is also an ever present conflict between the Christian and Islam faiths and between the Yoruba and Ijaw natives, between other tribes too. Reading about these conflicts is eye-opening and not light reading. The language is graphic, as fits the subject matter and the native customs.
However the serious themes are humorously lightened by the narrative. The book offers a perfect descriptions of how a teenager might think and talk! This is how Ezikiel responded on hearing they must move:
Warri is not safe. And those villages outside are even worse! Swamp villages! I googled Warri at the Internet café. Oil bunkering, hostage taking, illness, guns and poverty. What about my asthma? They burn poisonous chemicals straight into the air! It's not a safe place to live. (3% of book)
And in their grandparents' compound there is a dog that can smile and dance:
Snap was always attached to Boneboy's feet, weaving through them and looking up at him. I had never seen a dog that smiled before. But Snap did whenever Boneboy looked back down at him, or threw a bone into the air, or shouted, "Well done, boy!" It made me smile too……..Snap the dog was spinning around on his back, his tail and legs in the air, while Boneboy danced around him. "He is truly an amazing dog," said Boneboy. "He could be a champion." (18%)
You must read the story to know about the kindness shown to Boneboy.
The book is also concerns growing into adulthood, finding a place in the adult world.You see relationships grow and change:
The words poured out of my mouth like water. We had been living at Alhaji's for only four months, but it was long enough to know that Grandma could be asked anything. My words to Mama were less water and more sand. I rehearsed them in my head so many times that sometimes I was certain I had spoken to Mama……. (34%)
The relationships are not black and white, but nuanced. What makes the book a tough read are the contrasts. Some events are so graphically described that they are terribly difficult to read, but then the author throws in humour and kindness, and you can go on. Let me repeat, the setting is a learning experience! Life as it really is for many in Nigeria. What choices do you make when the conditions are such as they are? How do you find your own place in such a world, and how can you make it a good life?
Perhaps this book could be labelled a one directed toward young adults, but it certainly covers many serious issues that are clearly of interest to adult readers. The unrest, the fighting and killing between different armed militia groups, corrupt police forces, the groups backed by the oil companies and finally the freedom fighters, some consisting of boy soldiers, are not child's play. Neither does the book shy from the topic of female genital mutilation. These topics are movingly depicted and play a role in the book's plot line. The reading is so tough and you care so much about the family that you find yourself overjoyed when events go favourably for the family members. At times I found my heart pounding and then a huge smile erupted on my face.
Oh, one more things, characters that originally had me cringing are now laugh out loud funny. You will laugh with Celestine and her tight, lycra clothing. I promise you, you will! And don't the following lines make you smile?
I noticed he had no hair on his chest. Even Ezikiel had three chest hairs. (50 %)
Time and time again I run across marvellous lines. I think, I must quote them, but then I think it is good if you, the reader, can experience them here in the book. Or is that just an excuse so I can skip adding them to my review and instead continue reading?! Well, here is one example of a thought that I feel is spot-on:
He is a proud man, and pride for men is like love for women. Very strong. (at 71%)
How authors express themselves is so very important. I like this author's style because the lines grab me and scare me one minute and have me laughing the next:
I had grown use to being able to tell just by looking at the softness of a woman's stomach, how many children she had borne. Some of the men were up to five births – full term. (79%)
Come on, you must be laughing! No more quotes. No more lengthy excerpts. You can judge from those I have now given you if this is a book that will attract you. Me? I like the lines. I like the seriousness of the varied themes central to the book. I appreciate the wisdom reflected in the narrative, I enjoy learning about the Nigerian life style as it is depicted in the novel, and finally, I have come to care for the family members.
In summary, this is a marvellous book. It has all the ingredients that I appreciate. It did not feel like a novel, a story separate from real life. I learned about Nigerian customs and storytelling, about political controversies tearing the country apart and about African female genital circumcision. The afterword provides additional links and book sources concerning these topics. My one minor complaint is that a few dates would have helped to anchor the political events, although the reader can make quite accurate guesses by relating to other events occurring in the book.
The denouement kept me riveted through to the very last page. There is humour. There are devastating events that shake you to the core. There are so very many lines that had me thinking - yes, I agree! That is how I look at life too. One of the Nigerian fables presented is about a grasshopper and a frog. It said so much. Or was it a toad?! I am sure it will speak to you as it spoke to me. I said I would not give any more quotes……. but there is a line about giving birth, having children and why it is so painful. You are dividing your soul, of course that is painful. Although Christie Watson has the ability to pick just the right words to express the thoughts profoundly, the writing remains accessible and clear. One minute deep, the next jubilant and fun and happy.
I must give this egalley five stars! Thank you, Netgalley, for making it available to me. The book will be published this year, and I highly recommend it. (less)
I read this book when it came out a few years ago. The story and the characters have stayed with me. I cared for them. I felt their emotions. I felt I...moreI read this book when it came out a few years ago. The story and the characters have stayed with me. I cared for them. I felt their emotions. I felt I understood why they felt how they felt, and the book did a great job of depicting the Biafran struggle. Lee, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Thanks for reminding me of the book because again the characters were there before me.(less)