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Americanah
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2014 Book Discussions > Americanah - Part IV, V and VI (August 2014)

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message 1: by Terry (last edited Aug 06, 2014 07:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terry Pearce This is for discussion up to and including Parts IV, V and VI (Chapters 31 - 43). Please don't post spoilers beyond the end of Part VI.

Ifemelu becomes more outspoken and challenging about race in this section. How do her views make you feel. Were any of your own behaviours challenged?


Sandra | 114 comments I'm wondering why Ifemelu does not go to the demonstration that Blaine sets up... When the library security guard is unfairly profiled and Blaine calls a demonstration to point out the hypocrisy and racial profiling on the campus? Why did Ifemelu just coldly blow it off knowing how important it was to Blaine and how important to the African American community as a whole?


Terry Pearce Do you think part of it was *because* it was important to Blaine?


message 4: by Lily (last edited Aug 07, 2014 06:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Sandra wrote: "I'm wondering why Ifemelu does not go to the demonstration that Blaine sets up... When the library security guard is unfairly profiled and Blaine calls a demonstration to point out the hypocrisy an..."

Had forgotten the details around this. On a quick revisit, my thoughts are along the lines of this is the behavior one sees/indulges in when a relationship is over, perhaps even before stepping up to admitting such. Blaine could have had the courtesy to directly ask for Ifemelu's presence, but that he didn't and that Ifemelu didn't take the initiative to participate seemed to be more about their relationship than about ethnic politics.

P.S. Thought of this again today as am finishing Phineas Finn and Phineas is stumbling through all the complexities of his various romantic relationships. While Trollope's is a Victorian view and Adichie's belongs to our day, it reinforced my thoughts this passage is more about romance than politics, although the two still get entangled in mysterious and not readily decipherable ways.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments I found Part IV and the focus on Obama and his first election to be particularly interesting. I think Adiche's description of the reactions of African-Americans (and American-Africans) to be consistent with what I saw. So much hope existed at the moment of his election.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments I ran across an interesting discussion of the book this morning and how it is structured -- http://wonderbooknow.com/web-extras/m....


Aitziber | 22 comments I unearthed a comment I made to the Literary Fiction by People of Color group after I finished reading Americanah: "Why do you think Dike attempted to commit suicide? Dike is a character that, maybe because of his youth, is shrouded in some ambiguity as he's not yet articulate enough to talk about race. Uju and Ifemelu also avoid asking him about his motives."


message 8: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 17, 2014 12:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments These chapters were indeed moving and more outspoken about the race than the earlier ones. I actually really enjoyed Ifemelu's thought-provoking posts. They are obviously not Ifemelu's but Adichie's meditation on race and the deeply embedded effect of racial differences in America.

At that point, I actually started doubting the literary structure of the novel. It can hardly be classified as a novel - it is more like an extensive editorial or an opinion essay. The blog posts are extremely enlightening and thought-provoking, the historical background is very reminiscent of the recent past, but literary fiction in its best sense is not present there. I am all for the diversity of literary forms, and I like eclectic narrative strategies. I think in literary theory they are called creolized texts, but some magical spark is missing here in this novel despite its obvious modernity and originality.

On the other hand, if Achidie had put her ideas into a different form - blog, essay, article, editorial, research, would she have received the same attention? Doubtful. I think she is certainly using the form of the novel to talk about what she wants to talk, and indeed it is something we should discuss daily as it is a painful but in the long run healing topic. She (Adichie) is not an exception, though, and all authors do this, but somehow something tiny that is hard to pinpoint is missing, and the novel just does not gel in my mind.

Ifemelu is not contributing to this gelling process either. She is very self-absorbed, but she is lacking the inner world of her temptations, worries, anxieties. They are present in the novel - but they are 'actional', that is shown through her actions, not through her emotions.

She seems to be politically liberally oriented, but why does she 'oscillate' between Republican Kurt and hipster Blaine? Why does she treat Blaine so callously and cruelly? Blaine to a certain extent is also caricaturish with his excessive desire to eat only organic and his unwillingness to compromise when it comes to food, but Ifemelu is quite aggravating at that point in the book.


message 9: by Lily (last edited Aug 17, 2014 09:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Zulfiya wrote: "...Ifemelu is quite aggravating at that point in the book. ..."

To observe the creation of so complex a character as Ifemelu was, for me, one of the highlights of the novel. I didn't necessarily agree with her or even always understand her, but she seemed very much a product I recognized of a multilayered world relative to a sophisticated education, global connections, racial considerations, gender in the 21st century, family tribulations, .... "Why" is not necessarily always known as much as it is observable. Do we ask that our best authors go to emotions and feelings? Or to rationalizations and descriptions of "thought processes"? Is there something rather stereotypical "British" here?

Just a note on "creolized": (view spoiler)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Maybe my wording was not lucid or clear enough -I was typing at three in the morning. By saying that Ifemelu was an "actional" character, I meant that I would like to get an insight into her inner world, her emotions, her reasoning, etc. Basically, I would have liked to know her more intimately. I would have liked to know her reasoning behind her callous actions, like cheating on Kurt or betraying Blaine and everything he believed in.
As for creolized texts, not languages, although they are intrinsically connected as any text is a manifestation of a language, they are usually eclectic - contain texts of different discourses. In this novel, Adichie is using posts from Ifemelu's blog, and that is why I called this text creolized. Actually, the blog is one of the reasons why I gave the novel four stars.


message 11: by Lily (last edited Aug 17, 2014 11:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Maybe my wording was not lucid or clear enough -I was typing at three in the morning...."

Smile -- it was ~3:30 am when I signed off this morning. The terrors of having had an afternoon nap -- and night time oriented habits!

I like your posts because they do seem lucid -- but we sometimes seem to see different things or the same things from different perspectives.

Thanks for the expansion/distinction on creolized texts. I love it when those of you with literary training expand the reading savvy of those of us with other backgrounds.

Let me try a different comment on knowing Ifemelu's inner world. I can guess at it by what she says about or to others, I can guess at it by what she does. And I can trust the reality of those. But if she started to give me her feelings or her reasoning, I'm not certain but what she would be concealing as much as she was revealing -- either through self-deception or simply not being that reflective a person. Perhaps I have lived with and among too many examples of such people. Yet I am fascinated by the choices they make and the things they do -- and I usually find a logic in them, whether or not they would affirm or deny that logic. There is a charm and attraction, even dignity and respect, in the mystery. (I think that gets captured as well in some of the people Ifemelu blogs about who surprise her in terms of what they turn out to express. While the blogs may reflect Adichie's observations, I think she does use them in defining/describing/developing the character of Ifemelu.)


Deborah | 983 comments I was thinking a lot about Blaine and Dike. I posted a link in the no spoilers thread about the way American Blacks are perceived, the negative connotations, and the fact that even American Blacks see themselves this way. (This of course being a generalization.) This makes me horribly sad. And it's seems to be true of Blaine, who for all his activism and comradery with the average joe, dates first a white woman, then an African woman, but not an African American woman.

And this must be very hard for Dike who at home is told that he is not like those people, and outside the home is told he is those people.


Sandra | 114 comments Zulfiya wrote: "Maybe my wording was not lucid or clear enough -I was typing at three in the morning. By saying that Ifemelu was an "actional" character, I meant that I would like to get an insight into her inner ..."

I get exactly what you are saying here. This is how I felt as well. I did not feel the character of Ifemelu was fleshed out enough...I never felt I understood her and thus did not like her. I don't have to like a character to like the novel, but I need to understand them and I just never felt that with this character. The way Ifemelu acted and treated people was just really cold and unfeeling and there was no backstory or explanation as to why she acted the way she did. I really disliked her immensely by the end of the book. The only reason I rated the book as high as I did was because of the blog entries and the cocktail party discussions.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Aug 17, 2014 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Sandra wrote: "...The way Ifemelu acted and treated people was just really cold and unfeeling ..."

And that is not the way I perceived Ifemelu. Incisive, yes; cold and unfeeling, no. She was too unsure of herself and her own actions for me to go there.


Matthew | 154 comments I was fascinated by Ifemelu's apparent amorality in cheating on Kurt and lying to Blaine. The incident with Blaine was most interesting to me. As I saw it, she was angry that Blaine didn't ask if she would attend the rally, did not want to attend the rally because she had a better offer, but also didn't want to say, "I won't attend the rally" because it would lead to a fight and become a "big deal." So, she made the logical decision to lie and say she fell asleep. Blaine was really offended by it, but Ifemelu's response -- "People lie" -- shows a completely different view of morality. That lying is perfectly fine when telling the truth would lead to fight that you don't want to have. Maybe it's not amorality -- just a different morality (a more "Nigerian" morality?) Ifemelu also seems more willing to forgive (others and herself) that the holier-than-thou American men she associates with.


message 16: by Lily (last edited Aug 18, 2014 03:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Matthew wrote: "...(a more "Nigerian" morality?)..."

Based on Half of a Yellow Sun as well as Americanah, that was the spin I assumed --- very different than my father's attitude, where a lie was often candidate for stronger discipline than misbehavior. Also, interesting given Ifemelu's rather fundamentalist Christian mother.

One of our sessions in grad school was on bribery relative to conducting business around the world.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments We all know that morality is often fluid due to cultural differences. I was truly befuddled by Ifemelu's amorality , but I would not go too far to call it "Nigerian morality" because simply I do not know much about this country.

I also believe that all people share fundamental values to a certain but significant degree. As for Ifemelu, she might have experienced 'a cultural shift' because she discovered that in the USA there are races while in Nigeria she was not aware of this concept. It can also indicate how insecure her position was ... or she may be just an amoral person without being able to experience shame or to have qualms. And this might be a horrifying thought.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
My impression as I was reading was that Ifemelu did not always know why she was doing what she did. I saw the whole incident with lying to Blaine as just some sort of avoidance behavior on her part. While she was very introspective about some things, I think sometimes she addressed problems by sticking her head in the sand. I would put her treatment of Obinze in that category.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments Casceil wrote: "My impression as I was reading was that Ifemelu did not always know why she was doing what she did. I saw the whole incident with lying to Blaine as just some sort of avoidance behavior on her par..."

I can see that as a possibility. For someone so willing to speak her mind, she does seem to go into avoidance mode at times. I can relate to that.


Terry Pearce The debate about needing to know the whys, and gaining an insight into the reasoning, thoughts and motivation of the character, is a wider one than this book. One of the biggest criticisms of the Goldfinch [which I loved], for instance, is that it gave us too much in this direction. Some people want to know. Other people don't believe we can know, at least not all the time.

For me, in this book, Ifemelu is confused. She is searching, for herself, and for her place. Her path, her life with the man who understands her, were diverted, and while she has strong opinions about the world and what she sees, she vacillates about her place in it and feels adrift. For me, this facet of her explains as much as I need to know about why she does much of what she does. If she doesn't really, properly know why she does exactly what she does, why should I? She seems to me very real, very human.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments Terry wrote: "If she doesn't really, properly know why she does exactly what she does, why should I? She seems to me very real, very human."

Terry, I agree with your take on Ifemelu, but I have loved the discussion about her that we've had.


Terry Pearce Absolutely, Linda.

I think it was Zulfiya elsewhere in these discussions who invoked the fact that all interpretations are in some sense valid, that we create meaning through our reading, rather than try to access some objective meaning or interpretation, which in fact doesn't exist.


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments Matthew wrote: " The incident with Blaine was most interesting to me. As I saw it, she was angry that Blaine didn't ask if she would attend the rally,..."

I thought she didn't go to the rally because of this also. She was upset that he just assumed she would go and reacted by being stubborn and not going. But at the same time, she didn't want a big fight and thus lied. Sounds rather complicated now that I type all that out!


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments Casceil wrote: "I think sometimes she addressed problems by sticking her head in the sand. ..."

This is true also....


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