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Americanah
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2014 Book Discussions > Americanah - Part VII (August 2014)

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message 1: by Terry (last edited Aug 06, 2014 07:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terry Pearce This is for discussion of the final part of the book (Chapters 44 - 55).

How did you feel about Ifemelu's return to Nigeria, and how it affected her character? Do you feel this changed the nature of her experience in the US?


message 2: by LindaJ^ (last edited Aug 11, 2014 09:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Almost missed this question! I finished the book on Saturday. Once Ifemelu and Obinze got in touch, the story seemed to focus primarily on them. Ifemelu's reaction to Obinze changing his mind about her going with him on a trip seemed like self-protection to me. She refused to talk to him, I think, because she was afraid. She was frightened by his uncertainty as to their situation. She called him a coward. But what did she mean by that? Was she willing to be his acknowledged mistress, which that trip would seem to make her? Or was she telling him that he was a coward for not acknowledging her, which, contrary to the Nigerian norm, would require him to face his wife? I think he acted extremely non-Nigerian (based on what I understand from the book is the typical Nigerian way of dealing, e.g., her Aunt and the General) in leaving his wife. But then Obinze has never seemed to be typical!

Now to your specific questions.

How did you feel about Ifemelu's return to Nigeria, and how it affected her character?
I don't think Ifemulu's character changed at any point in the book. She was always outspoken. She says that she knew she was back to being Nigerian when she became belligerent. So maybe the way she expressed her character changed.

Do you feel this changed the nature of her experience in the US? I don't think her experience in the US changed but I do think she saw it through new eyes. She was no longer the American African viewing America through African eyes. She was the returned African viewing Nigerians through her Americanized eyes and she had to adjust to being in a smaller, more homogenous environment.


message 3: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 17, 2014 11:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments I agree with Linda. At the end of the book, Ifemelu is experienced with significant exposure to the American lifestyle under belt, but I am hesitant about true character development in her case.
In my first post, I mentioned how "unliterary literary" this book is. I am not demeaning the literary quality of this novel - it is definitely literature or literary fiction, but for the people who majored in communications, like Ifemelu, or with Obinze's background, the two post-colonial novels are mentioned repeatedly - Things Fall Apart and The Heart of the Matter, and to me, it is hard to imagine that only two books can shape their lives or encapsulate their experience.


Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Zulfiya wrote: "...the two post-colonial novels are mentioned repeatedly - Things Fall Apart and The Heart of the Matter, and to me, it is hard to imagine that only two books can shape their lives or encapsulate their experience...."

Well, doesn't the very nature of the scope of at least Ifemelu's education imply a much broader exposure to both literature and political ideas, as well as to a variety of people of diverse backgrounds? What needs to be mentioned or included in the novel to meet the criteria you seem to be articulating?


Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Linda wrote: "...She was the returned African viewing Nigerians through her Americanized eyes and she had to adjust to being in a smaller, more homogenous environment...."

But one in which she could be more comfortable in her dark skin? And that's a question. I'm not sure, after her American experience. But I do think she is saying that both white Americans and black Americans need to consider the difference ambiance makes. (And my mind flutters back to Rich Benjamin's Whitopia.)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Undoubtedly, she read many books, but these two do not give a valid key to her inner world. The books are just mentioned, and her attitude is not evident.
Now on reflection I do not even see how she was able to write this blog. It is more like Adichie's blog in the book about Ifemelu.
I find Obinze more intriguing as a character. I would like to study and count the cockroaches in his head, and I am o'k with not seeing hers.
Her occasionally snarky and always illuminating posts were wonderful, but as a character she has not intrigued me. She is like an author whose books are top-notch, but whose life is insipid. She is definitely complex as a character, but as inspiring as a complex organic formula.
The words might seem harsh, isn't it what we all are: human shells full of struggles, fears, judgements, but unappealing to others despite our tragedies and victories?


message 7: by Lily (last edited Aug 17, 2014 01:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Zulfiya wrote: "...The words might seem harsh, isn't it what we all are: human shells full of struggles, fears, judgements, but unappealing to others despite our tragedies and victories? ..."

Isn't that exactly what makes Ifemelu appealing as a character? Even when one doesn't always like what she does.


message 8: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 17, 2014 02:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments I understand, Lily, how and why you find her interesting as a character, but I need a key to decode her, a tiny teeny key because without this key, it looks like she is defined by her race only. I am sure she is much more, but that much more seems to be totally irrelevant in the novel.


message 9: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 17, 2014 02:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments You like her for her tragic potential, and I dislike her because this potential may never come to fruition


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments I had to edit my previous post because my tablet decided to call you Linda. :-) More reasons to like desktops!


message 11: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Zulfiya wrote: "... a tiny teeny key because without this key, it looks like she is defined by her race only...."

I don't understand!?


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments I hope I understand your question correctly. We have discussed how Ifemelu is hard to define - she is too complex because her thoughts, opinions, and emotions are inside her as a reader is possibly expected to project and make assumptions about her inner world. The only way we can learn something that is inside her head is her actions and her blog, but because her posts are mostly about being black in the USA and being not North American black, then it is easy to assume that she is defined by her race or she chooses to define herself through race and the alien status. No other key is given to decipher her differently, but I refuse to believe that only race was the making of her personality; thus, she must have been shaped by her social environment, social and economic status, physiological issues, by her femininity, by her professional success or failure, by her academic success or failure. Any individual is formed and molded by the above mentioned factors, but to us she is shown only as a character that was formed by her racial experience. To understand another Ifemelu as a woman, lover, student, professional, activist, shopper, reader, social conversationalist, I need a key to open this black box of her human experience. Without it, she is unapproachable. That is why her thoughts and emotions are so important to me.

As I said earlier you possibly like her because of the tragic potential inside her, and I do not like her because this potential was never given a chance to become reality. As a character in the novel, she exists only in the frame of her origin and race, and I want to see another Ifemelu - one who is vulnerable and/or strong, one who enjoys helping others or hates being an altruist, one who is more focused on the US politics, even if it means exposing some liberal hypocrisy(and I am a bleeding heart liberal as my Republican students openly label me :-)), enthusiasm and frustration about politics, torn loyalties, guilt and gloat, everything that makes her a woman and a human being.


message 13: by Lily (last edited Aug 18, 2014 10:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Zulfiya wrote: "...As I said earlier you possibly like her because of the tragic potential inside her..."

And, I don't relate to that statement at all, Zulfiya. I feel as if you are placing an interpretation on me to which I can only respond: I don't comprehend a match. I wish we could be face-to-face to explore meanings back and forth more rapidly.

Likewise, I hear (and understand?) that you see Ifemelu as "to us she is shown only as a character that was formed by her racial experience." And for me, I read and responded to her as a character formed by the other characteristics you name above about which we are given significant clues, characteristics besides the color of her skin, her birth as a Nigerian of a particular ethnicity, her subsequent migrations, and the experiences/reactions directly related to those. I also responded to Ifemelu as a human being to whom I could relate -- quick to observe, willing to comment on those observations, open to recognizing that first (or considered) reactions might be wrong, not always letting others be aware of that openness, an undercurrent of doubt and vulnerability to the slings and arrows of life, viewing the world as not simple and straightforward, but still sometimes acting as if it is, ....

Let me say now, before this discussion spirals places I feel unable or unwilling to go, that I am expressing reactions I hold several months after reading the book. While I started to reread, pulled in by these discussions, my current situation recovering from eye surgery is curtailing both reading and PC time, so I am relying on residual reactions to the book and its characters, not on close reading that I can back up with passages from the text.


Matthew | 154 comments So, can I just say that there was a definite point where Obinze was trying to decide whether to stay with Kosi and stop seeing Ifemelu, or leave his wife, or try to keep Ifemelu as a mistress, where all I could think was, "Oh, crap. There's no way out. Obinze's going to end of dying, isn't he?" I'm glad I was wrong about that, but I'm also not sure -- given the implied "and they all lived happily ever after" at the end -- what the best ending would be.

I felt bad for Kosi who was just being true to herself and wanted to keep the family together. (Compare Kosi to Kurt, and their reactions to infidelity -- which one behaved "better"? When Obinze gets angry at Kosi for knowing about the infidelity and not saying anything, I was ready to take sides against Obinze.) At one point, I was wondering if the whole book was going to end up being a treatise of polyamory. Leaving either woman seemed more immoral than staying with both!

So, in the end, Obinze didn't die and it wasn't a treatise on polyamory, and I found it all very satisfying, but I am still a little unsettled about the ending.


message 15: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 18, 2014 11:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Lily, I think here we have to agree to disagree. I applaud Adichie for keen insightful observations, for noticing things we take for granted in our ostensible 'post-apartheid society'. Adichie's role in these eye-opening observations is hard to underestimate. That is the reason I gave the novel four stars.

Having said this, I have to admit Ifemelu as a character is a black box. I think she was created by Adichie to give voice to her own opinion and conclusions. She is used by Adichie as a conductor, a medium, a character to express her own concerns and worries. She did not convince me as a character - there is a certain discrepancy between the brilliant posts of her blog and the life she lived. I actually considered giving the book a lower rating because Ifemelu is only a potential.
I am an immigrant, and I originally related to her, but the more she stayed in the USA, the more formulaic and inaccessible as a character she became. I stopped understanding her. On the other hand, I devoured the chapters about Obinze.

As I said earlier in my post, we have to agree to disagree. According to Eco, literary texts are a perfect example of perpetuum mobile in the meaning that they generate new meanings and interpretations incessantly with each new reader, and there is no way to verify these interpretations as correct or incorrect because they are all correct in their own way.


message 16: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments perpetuum mobile

My second vocabulary lesson on these boards this morning! Part of why I find these discussions so precious.

Thank you, Zulfiya -- on so many levels, whether "agreeing to disagree" or encouraging self reflection on one's own interpretations or providing another insight from your own training and background. (Eco has long been a favorite of mine, even though I don't believe any of his books are on my Goodreads favorites list.)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments Linda, I can only reciprocate. I like meaningful conversations, and these are the moments I cherish most.


Terry Pearce A moment I found very striking was Kosi's attempt to just carry on as if nothing had happened, and the fact that Obinze was pulled into the gravitational field of routine. I actually thought that was how it was going to end; with the idea that, when uncertainty takes hold, inertia can be the determining factor.

I'm glad it ended as it did. It seemed just the right note; not too easy, but right in terms of the characters.


Aitziber | 22 comments Perhaps Ifemelu's inability to accept a role such as the one Uju held in the past is what makes her (and Obinze, even) Americanah. To a certain extent, it is understood that such arrangements are so typical in men of Obinze's wealth and/or position in Nigeria, that Kosi would go along with it. (To be fair, such arrangements are also typical of men of a certain wealth in the Western world as well, see Donald Sterling.) Uju's arrangement was even accepted by highly religious women as Ifemelu's mother.

Maybe, then, one of the changes in Ifemelu was to adopt this kind of refusal to be the other woman. Not because of religion, or morals, necessarily, but a reason borne out of her own feelings. And it is also something that Obinze can understand, whereas the General wouldn't have.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Aitziber wrote: "Perhaps Ifemelu's inability to accept a role such as the one Uju held in the past is what makes her (and Obinze, even) Americanah. To a certain extent, it is understood that such arrangements are s..."

Good observations, Aitziber. It sounds very possible to me.


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