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Americanah
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2014 Book Discussions > Americanah - General Discussion (Spoilers) (August 2014)

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Terry Pearce Comment here on the whole of the book. What did you think? What did you like most? What did you feel it achieved?


Julia (juliastrimer) Thanks so much, Terry. Here's my review (we just finished the book for one of my f2f groups, and it engendered almost two hours of discussion!)

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 3: by Lily (last edited Aug 02, 2014 08:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments I am in the midst of reading Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin. Especially reading it with Adichie's Americanah brought to mind, I am finding it a thoughtful exploration of social equality and social justice, which Benjamin distinguishes, and another provocative look at our careless assumptions about what is or might be racism -- as well as a description of persistent (American) refusals to avoid confronting differences and issues, often preferring to turn and walk away in denial and to "safety."

"Race in America, Ifemelu finds, is an exhausting minefield of heightened awareness, feigned obliviousness and political pieties." -- from a review of Adichie's book."

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/...


message 4: by Ellie (last edited Aug 02, 2014 08:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ellie (elliearcher) | 143 comments I thought it provided several vivid pictures of the experience of immigration, of dislocation from one's roots and familiar cultural surroundings-people as well as place, and at the same time the difficulty of returning "home"-where is home? What does it mean to be "home"? It was also a fascinating examination of both racism and sexism and the various disguises these might assume.


Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Ellie wrote: "...What does it mean to be "home"? It was also a fascinating examination of both racism and sexism and the various disguises these might assume...."

Ellie -- You may find this lecture adds to those senses about Adichie's writing. It is 67 minutes, with introduction and questions (~52 w/o questions), but I felt it worth the time. It can be paused.

http://www.princeton.edu/WebMedia/fla...


Ellie (elliearcher) | 143 comments Ellie wrote: "I thought it provided several vivid pictures of the experience of immigration, of dislocation from one's roots and familiar cultural surroundings-people as well as place, and at the same time the d..."

Fascinating speech. Thank you so much Lily.


Terry Pearce Julia, your review is very incisive. Your thoughts about Ifemelu's cowardice are very interesting. I think in many ways she is brave -- she overcomes much -- but in many ways you are right, she is scared to face things; she often runs away. For me, however, this didn't lessen my ability to identify with her. If anything it increased it.

You suggest that some of Ifemelu's blogged ideas are cynical. Do you mean that you feel that she takes too dim a view of people's (and in particular Americans') attitudes on race? Do you feel that things are not as bad as she paints them?


Terry Pearce How do people who've finished the book feel about the title? How does it sum up the book? What does it say about the themes of the book?


Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments More than usually so, I have found the Goodreads reviews very insightful and fun to read -- both those that rate the book highly and those which do not.

One of them gave me my first interpretation of the title's meaning/significance. (I hadn't really thought about it.)


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Anita | 103 comments According to Adiche: "Americanah is a word in Nigeria referring to people who pretend to be Americanized or have been Americanized."

I don't believe there could be a more perfect title. Too many themes to address, but accepting who we are seems to be the most important one to me. On the other hand, should we accept who we are if we believe we can be more? And then what is more? This book proided me with more questions than answers. :) I thought it was excellent and I believe Adiche's writings will enable people to look at racism and sexism that so many are denying.


message 11: by Sandra (last edited Aug 06, 2014 09:19AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sandra | 114 comments One thing that really strikes me is the name of Ifemelu's blog. Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks.... By a NON-AMERICAN BLACK. In many ways Ifemelu clearly feels superior to the American black to the point that she makes sure you know she's not one of those blacks. She could have called it Observations on being black in America but she did not.


Terry Pearce Sandra, do you think that it's entirely that (not saying there's nothing in that at all), or do you think it may be partly because, as she often points out, there are experiential differences between being 'Black and American' and being 'Black and Non-American'?


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Anita | 103 comments While I hear you Sandra, my first reaction was that she wanted us to know there is a difference. Quite frankly, while I should know that, I never thought about it before. To me, one of the important themes was opening our eyes to differences, as opposed to ignoring them.


Sandra | 114 comments Yes, of course there has to be different experiences. But one of the things Ifemelu tries to point out is according to America in general, if you are black, you're black. Doesn't matter if you are half black, or only a quarter black, if you LOOK black then you are just black period. She doesn't want to be just black, she wants to be African. Which, yes of course she does. But I can't help but feel she feels superior to American blacks and wants to separate herself from them. Which is what white America is guilty of as well. Do you see what I'm saying? She is kind of on both sides of the issue.


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Anita | 103 comments Yes, I do see what you're saying, because I think there is a fine line between explaining you're different rather than better.


Aitziber | 22 comments Sandra wrote: "Yes, of course there has to be different experiences. But one of the things Ifemelu tries to point out is according to America in general, if you are black, you're black. Doesn't matter if you are ..."

I disagree. Yes, there is a point in Americanah where Ifemelu wants to make it clear that her experiences as a non-American black are different than if she'd been born in America. But then she responds to I believe is a comment in her blog, that says that African-Americans are always going on about racism, or something along those lines, and she delivers the smackdown that of course they do, because SHE or her ancestors weren't brought to America to be slaves, only for slavery to be abolished, but still be second rate citizens in many aspects. She defends Affirmative Action by saying that it helps white women more than it helps blacks of either sex. There are many points in the book where she defends the African-American experience.

America does in fact have a view of race that doesn't correspond 1:1 with how race and bigotry manifests elsewhere.

In Japan, white people experience racism, so many white ex-pats in Japan think the racism there is worse because it also affects them.

Many Americans can't wrap their minds around the fact that Europeans are bigoted towards Poles, Romanians and other Slavs. "They're white, but there must be some darker or different class of white for Europeans to be bigoted towards them??" No, they're as white as the next person, but in Europe prejudice manifests in ways that aren't the same as in America.

And prejudice is expressed differently in Africa. It also varies by country. Racism isn't the same in South Africa as it is in Nigeria. Ifemelu isn't saying that she's better than African-Americans. She is saying that her experiences have shaped her differently, because for the first part of her life, it wasn't the color of her skin what made her different.


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?


Julia (juliastrimer) Aitziber wrote: "Sandra wrote: "Yes, of course there has to be different experiences. But one of the things Ifemelu tries to point out is according to America in general, if you are black, you're black. Doesn't mat..."

Excellent observations, Aitziber--and that became the core of the book for me, the idea of prejudice in ALL its forms. You give some powerful examples that I would never have considered, such as the idea that Europeans can be bigoted toward those of Slavic heritage.

Thanks for broadening the perspective--makes me look in the mirror and ask who I may be "pre-judging", regardless of whether the issue is race or not.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
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 and ..."

I wondered why she didn't just tell Blaine at the outset that she had a prior engagement. There was something very passive-aggressive about the way she acted. She was going to do what she wanted to do, and since she knew Blaine was going to be unhappy with her choice, she just wasn't going to tell him about it.


Aitziber | 22 comments Casceil wrote: "I wondered why she didn't just tell Blaine at the outset that she had a prior engagement. There was something very passive-aggressive about the way she acted. She was going to do what she wanted to do, and since she knew Blaine was going to be unhappy with her choice, she just wasn't going to tell him about it."

Personally, I liked Lily's take on it in response to Sandra here. Ifemelu is being passive aggressive, but on the other hand, Blaine did volunteer her for the demonstration without even asking her. Remember, she never expressed a desire to go as he was planning the event. He just decided on his own that she'd go.

I find this interesting. I believe some people have gotten the impression that Ifemelu should always be "on", as in protesting, demonstrating, being politically active, or else she does not have the right to write a blog such as hers. Is that true? Should people always be politically engaged 100% or they do not get to complain? Or do people get to prioritize events on a day-to-day basis, and choose to prioritize one's career over activism for once, without having their credibility called into question?


message 21: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Aitziber wrote: "...choose to prioritize one's career over activism for once, without having their credibility called into question?..."

Or romantic life?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments Anita wrote: "While I hear you Sandra, my first reaction was that she wanted us to know there is a difference. Quite frankly, while I should know that, I never thought about it before. To me, one of the import..."

Anita, I tend to agree with you and your comment brought to mind the party in which there was an exchange between African-American Michael (I think) and Ifemelu in which he comments on how lucky she is to know the history of her family, which I interpreted as knowing about her roots. This struck me as a real difference between African-Americans whose heritage was slavery and all that entails and American-Africans who were born and grew up in an Africa country, with an African language and culture.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments Aitziber wrote: "Sandra wrote: "Yes, of course there has to be different experiences. But one of the things Ifemelu tries to point out is according to America in general, if you are black, you're black. Doesn't mat..."

Aitziber, I agree with you and could not articulate a better response, so I'll just join yours!


message 24: by Julia (last edited Aug 08, 2014 02:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Julia (juliastrimer) Terry wrote: "Julia, your review is very incisive. Your thoughts about Ifemelu's cowardice are very interesting. I think in many ways she is brave -- she overcomes much -- but in many ways you are right, she is ..."

Hmm, I've been pondering your question, Terry. I've been trying to get "beyond" or "beneath" the issue of race, since for me the book is really about searching for an identity--a search that is true for all of us lost and lorn humans on the planet.

However, I do respect that for Adichie and therefore Ifem, the issue of race IS the identity crisis they must resolve. And I do think the situation in America is as bad as she paints it. However, the blogs themselves don't attempt to solve any of the issues, imho, but rather offer fodder for Ifem's anger and hurt.

Again, I feel limited in my ability to both respond to and appreciate this work, since I'm Caucasian--and she definitely made me look in the mirror about how I may have (even if unintentionally) harmed others through my OWN prejudices.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments I recommended this novel to my step mother-in-law (a mouthful, isn't it?). She is a Special Ed English teacher, and some months ago we were discussing with her some books that her school had chosen as recommended reading material. She mentioned that she would like to move on from the topic of race because it is time to heal and not to talk about it. Questionable, but it was her point.

As soon as I finished this novel, I called her and recommended it to her personally because it is an eye-opening experience for me, and I am a Mediterranean/Southern and Eastern European Caucasian, an immigrant; thus I am familiar with how alien I look in white white Arkansas: questions, questions, curiosity,and false assumptions. The last statement was not to express my judgement, but to show how even for an immigrant who looks different in a conservative insular state the question of race could be quite important.

I can not fathom why my very conservative step mother-in-law believes that everything about race is in the past, and now where everyone is virtually color blind, we should NOT talk about it because namely the discussion of this topic exacerbates the situation.

I wish she would read this novel. I hope she will. Maybe she will understand how mainstream culture is still white in all its manifestations: movies, glossy magazines, beauty industry (make up, pantyhose, band-aid strips , etc). Some of the posts in Ifemelu's blog were true revelations.

My only complain about the novel is Ifemelu as a character was shaped through race: I would like to see her more human, more accessible as a character - she is insular and detached from her readers: no emotions, no anxieties, no fears, no happiness - nothing. Her inner world is a big black box with no access to its content.


Aitziber | 22 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I can not fathom why my very conservative step mother-in-law believes that everything about race is in the past, and now where everyone is virtually color blind, we should NOT talk about it because namely the discussion of this topic exacerbates the situation."

I find her statement quite shocking, considering all that's going on in Ferguson. I don't know whether to recommend she reads the novel or the news first.

At any rate, I've now read the discussion of this book on two groups, the latter being this one, and the former being Literary Fiction by People of Color. I found the reactions in this group, as a whole, to be more defensive and upset, even on the behalf of African Americans (how dare Ifemelu call herself a non-American black, does she feel superior? etc) than on LFPC, where the majority of the members are actually black.

When I first read this book, I thought it put complex concepts in a way that people could easily understand and not lash out at. I have learned that it upsets people, regardless. I do hope your stepmother in law does read Americanah, and that she learns something from it. I'm just not as positive about it as I would've been a few months ago.


Matthew | 154 comments When I started this book, I was afraid it would be a book by Nigerians for Nigerians -- and while I still that way about the scenes set in Nigeria and the hair salon, by the end there really was something for everyone in the scenes in America and England. By the end, while I agreed with almost all of Ifemelu's lessons, I felt that it might have been veering toward the other extreme -- didactic and preachy -- in the blog posts that often felt thrown in and only marginally related to the story.

The best parts, I thought, dealt with her relationships -- fellow students at Wellston, Kimberly, Kurt, and Blaine. Small moments that expertly showed the cultural differences in a scene or conversation. The worst parts, I thought, was the play-by-play of the 2008 Presidential campaign. (I was not in suspense about who would win.) it was spot-on in its recollection about how people talked about Obama in 2007 and 2008, but I just kept hoping there'd be more about Blaine, or Kimberly would visit (or Don -- weren't we building to some sort of revelation with him that never came?) Meanwhile, the alternating POV character idea worked for the most part, but with Obinze the POV character 1/4 or less, it felt a little strained.

The end, I think, was believable for Ifemelu and Obinze. Ifemelu got what she wanted, but I'm still struggling with whether it was a "happy ending."


message 28: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 18, 2014 07:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Aitziber wrote: "I find her statement quite shocking, considering all that's going on in Ferguson. I don't know whether to recommend she reads the novel or the news first.
"


To be fair, she made this statement prior to the events in Ferguson, MO.

I am sure she is aware that racism exists even in modern America, but her way of dealing with racism is not to talk about it. Her spiritual community believes there is no racial division in the USA any more in their spiritual community, so talking about it is irrelevant as it does not exist in their community. Their community is uber-conservative and very insular. Basically, the best description is out of sight, out of mind - there is no racism if we are not talking about it. And if we are not talking about it, there is no danger of germinating the seeds of racism. That's her attitude.


message 29: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Aitziber wrote: "...At any rate, I've now read the discussion of this book on two groups, the latter being this one, and the former being Literary Fiction by People of Color...."

Thanks for the heads up on this one, Aitziber. I just spent some time perusing the entries here (in two threads, one on a Salon interview, the other the actual discussion in basically July, 2013):

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...


message 30: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Zulfiya wrote: "...Basically, the best description is out of sight, out of mind - there is no racism if we are not talking about it. And if we are not talking about it, there is no danger of germinating the seeds of racism...."

Z -- I thought of your post when I saw this lead for a Washington Post article (haven't read the article yet):

"5. Why the likely 2016 candidates for president are holding their tongues on Ferguson

"They, like everyone else, hope it all goes away."


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Racial debates are still a big "no-no". We are all color blind, aren't we?


Terry Pearce I think what the book can do for people who don't realise the scale of the problem is open their eyes somewhat to the extent of their privilege. But only if they don't get defensive.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments The race issue is so difficult. It requires both (or the many) sides to try to listen without being defensive, and that is something, I've found (in me, as well as others) that can be quite difficult. I think this book can provide a common ground for discussion. I am glad we have explored those issues in our discussion.


message 34: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2465 comments Linda wrote: "..I am glad we have explored those issues in our discussion. ..."

Explored? Or touched upon? It seemed to me that even the other board, with its perhaps more diverse members, avoided what I would call "exploring." I felt my f2f club, despite years of including racial topics and black writers among our reading oeuvre, did the same. Yet part of me thinks that the levels that were done were probably to the extent that could be appropriate for a public board like this one, and we should be grateful for these careful dances. I read the word and phrase picking as positive indications of both sensitivity and caring. Even where we think others may hold different (or the same) views than/as our own, in my experience it has been vital to avoid placing nuances on those assumptions and to hear/listen for the nuances as articulated directly by that other.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2305 comments In this instance, for me, the terms aren't really different. Our exploration was not indepth, but, as you say, I do not think this is the forum for indepth exploration.


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