Americanah Has Levels of Relatability

I did say, in Reflections After My First Semester, that I would re-read this book. And I’ve ky33, but I finally have.

Americanah is probably one of the heaviest, most condensed books I have ever read. And I am not, in my opinion, hero-worshipping Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, though I certainly have a stupendous amount of admiration for her. I am simply stating my opinion, based on my second, more enlightened reading of the novel.


I first read Americanah near when it came out in 2013, borrowed from a friend’s parent. I was in my second year of high school at the time and had still never lived anywhere outside Ghana. I had visited England, the US, and Canada, but hardly stayed more than two weeks. I liked Chimamanda because I had already read Half of a Yellow Sun, and thought it was interesting, though I don’t think I have a natural affinity for books with events surrounding war. After my first read of Americanah, I was amused and entertained by all the complicated relationships the book held. The thing was, though, it was still all just fiction to me, and after reading it, I didn’t particularly know what to do with it.

Fast forward to the end of college freshman year, when I restart Americanah, get only a little way through, then watch all existing episodes of the Netflix series, Dear White People, after which I return to Americanah and complete it. Interesting (and probably irrelevant) observations: I went through the series much quicker than I intended to; the binge disease caught me – and I took a much longer time than I expected to complete the novel; it is way longer than I remembered.

These two things have at least one theme in common: the experience of being black in American college. I thought Dear White People was an excellent show, which, despite its apparent brevity, managed to condense a lot of key elements into ten episodes. I haven’t watched the movie yet, though I intend to soon. I enjoyed it immensely. There’s just one glaring flaw: Rashid, the Kenyan, the show’s token African. I first began watching DWP with a group of African girls, and legit, aside from that one time Rashid clapped back when some American insulted his English, we were all rather unimpressed by him. HashtagGetAfricansToWriteOnscreenAfricansAndStopYourNonsensePlease. Don’t get me started on his West-African-East-African-Generic-Hollywood-African hybrid of an accent. Anyway, I’m being tangential. Oya, back to the matter (open and close, touch your toes…).

So, that one thing they failed, Chimamanda nailed. I kept thinking how crazy lit the series would have been if Rashid had been replaced with Americanah’s Mwombeki, who, though a minor character, gave every newcomer African student his classic intro speech.

Voici, an excerpt:

“Very soon, you will start to adopt an American accent, because you don’t want customer service people on the phone to keep asking you, ‘What? What?’ You will start to admire Africans who have perfect American accents, like our brother here, Kofi. Kofi’s parents came from Ghana when he was two years old, but do not be fooled by the way he sounds. If you go to their house, they eat kenkey every day. His father slapped him when he got a C in class. There’s no American nonsense in that house. He goes back to Ghana every year. We call people like Kofi American-African, not African-American, which is what we call our brothers and sisters whose ancestors were slaves.” -Mwombeki

Anyway, the question of who the story is for is important: Dear White People, though we (Africans) are able to relate a lot to the content of the series, was not intended for us. Americanah, on the other hand, I believe, was. I am also not postulating the idea that it is every African-in-America’s experience. It’s a fictional story, mostly based on one-and-a-half main characters from Nigeria. (And I’m proud of it for that; attempting to be general and all-encompassing can make a story rather useless.) I have no doubt that a man from Nigeria’s experience would be different, a Tanzanian’s different etc.

So, with all this context – the combination of my experience and the media I had consumed – Americanah took on a whole new level of relatability for me. It’s the second level.

The first level was just the classic West African upbringing: seeing fiercely religious adults who will blindly but willfully attribute society’s kuluulu to God’s blessings, the adults that are too ashamed of their (lack of) education to use anything “inferior” to unnecessarily long words, the secondary school romance, the squad boys of the class etc. etc.

Then I reached the second level: the transition from West Africa to America. The liberal nature of college classes. The race politics, inside the classroom and out. the burden of being frugal when everyone around you seems to be splashing money around. The stress of searching for a job. The onset of depression in college etc. etc.

There was a lot of stuff that was more generally relatable – by which I mean not restricted to the college experience – like Ifemelu’s encounter with the too-known white woman in the hair salon.

But then, after level two, for the most part, a lot of the story starts calmly feeling like a fiction novel again, to me; a relevant fiction novel, but still just a novel. There is a knowledge you can only acquire with experience.

For example, if I were to start and end a relationship with a half-woke, half-baffling, doting, rich white boy and I read the book again, I’d have unlocked another level. If I were to start and end a relationship with a high-principled, academic, African-American man and I read the book again, yet another level unlocked. If I were to witness any of my African-but-raised-in-American cousins go through severe, mental-health-affecting identity crises, another level, and so on.

This is why I intend to keep rereading Americanah as my college career and life progress, to see what potential levels I can unlock. It’s a ridiculously heavy book, I swear.


My Thoughts: Purple Hibiscus

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

126381Yes, I have read Half of a Yellow Sun, and I have also read Americanah. I’ve watched loads of this woman’s speeches and read some of her short stories featured in online publications. No, I have not yet read The Thing Around Your Neck, but even so, I hold fast to the belief that I now have: Purple Hibiscus is her most relevant work. (To me.)

I have been absolutely astounded to discover that mainstream media has gotten Half of a Yellow Sun to all but overshadow Purple Hibiscus to the point of near obscurity. I have tried and tried to find an article, interview, whatever, of Chimamanda, specifically in relation to this book (not Half of a Yellow Sun with Purple Hibiscus casually thrown in) and I have failed. All I seem to be getting is a bunch of websites with lesson notes. This isn’t at all what I am looking for.

[Side note: I have been holding in for so long a rant about how we have managed to reduce a lot of great things to technical academia, which sometimes renders discussion of said pieces of work nearly non-existent outside of the classroom context. But this is not the time. *upside-down smiley emoji *]

I have been looking for something more along the lines of how this book changed some teenager’s perception of African literature, shook a devout parent, dissembled an oppressive African environment… But more than that, I have been looking for an explanation, perhaps from Adichie herself, of the paradoxical nature of many of the characters.

I have to say that this book has been the most emotionally taxing book I have read all year. It is not inherently the most painful. I think the most painful so far has been A Thousand Splendid Suns. But the reason this got me in my feels so much and so hard is that I could personally recognize – like really recognize, as if I had known them in real life – just about all of the characters. Engaging with this book was intense, I can’t even lie.

I know I could never have written it, though, because of the perspective it was told through; Kambili, the quiet, the falsely indoctrinated, the academically brilliant but otherwise foolish main character, really threatened to get me to punch my Kindle multiple times. I could barely stand her thoughts and decisions, even though I knew why they were what they were. The thing is that, I’m just not that kind of person. The flame in Amaka and her fearless outspokenness is the only perspective I could have possibly told this story though Plus the ridiculous inferiority complex and all.

With this story told through Kambili, it was like a thick, translucent sheet had been placed over a raging sea. When you watched it, you didn’t get the full experience. Or maybe I should rather compare it to a bunch of words being told through a text-to-speech application, as opposed to an emotive human being reading something to you.

I really could talk about this book continuously but I want to focus on this thing that has been bothering me since: the character of Eugene. He is one of the biggest character paradoxes I have ever read, and the book still ended with him unexplained. It rather perplexed me further!

I simply could not – absolutely not – understand how a man could so thoroughly brainwash himself into becoming full of hate for anything contrary to a deity he really does seem to have made up for himself. God wasn’t his god; religion was. Religion in the sense of habitual practices, and orders followed. And it’s not like he was that much of a hypocrite too; he actually seemed to fully believe in all that he did. My brain refuses to wrap its head around a well-meaning tyrant.

For someone who frequently abused his wife and children in the name of religious discipline and implicitly encouraged perpetual silence about the matter (and just general subdued demeanours that turned his whole family into metaphorical robots), I fail to see how he was so devoted to the exposure of the scandalous truth of his country that he was the publisher of the Standard, whose content consistently got people in political trouble. It simply doesn’t add up. Especially not how protective he seemed to be of Ade Coker.

That’s another thing. I’m not entirely sure what exactly the relevance of Ade Coker was in the story. Maybe it was just to confuse me. It did cross my mind that maybe Eugene and Ade had some sort of affair, and Eugene’s tyrannical religious ways were his mechanisms of dealing with the guilt. But then if that is true, what was the point of him recounting the abomination (can’t recall the specific words he himself used) of that one time he masturbated to Kambili?

The final stroke of confusion was when he was discovered to have anonymously donated money to charities and such. But he couldn’t take care of his own father, and nearly ostracized his broke sister and her family? I swear, I don’t get it. And Adichie had the gall to end the book without explaining all this to me. Like, I’m mad. And I can’t even find a single decent interview. (But if you can find one for me, that’d be great. LOL.)

There are so many relevant themes that I know I won’t touch on now. But now that I’ve read the book, it/they will start popping up slowly in my conversations and subsequent writings.

I think everyone should read this book. I really do. Also, I may have a crush on Obiora. But that’s just by the way. J


This is what I felt was the single, most centrally relevant quote, by Aunty Ifeoma’s friend:

“It is what happens when you sit back and do nothing about tyranny. Your child becomes something you cannot recognize.”


My Literary Story (A really long summary)

I was thinking of writing this and posting it yesterday (yesterday, 3rd March, was World Book Day 2016), but circumstances got in the way, and I also got lazy, so I didn’t. But then @EDWVN started this long Twitter thread about how he got into reading, and I loved his story! I told him so, and he said he was looking forward to hearing others’ stories, including mine, so I said, why not, it’s not too late. (I mean, it kind of is, but you understand what I mean.) So, here’s my story.

Before I was six years old, I was a relatively boring child with nothing remotely interesting about my personality. All I did was go to school and come back. LOL. Also, apparently, I was really bossy. But that’s not the point. I wanted to be a smart kid. And all these Ghanaian adults around me kept telling me that smart kids read a lot. So I wanted to read a lot, but I never could get into it myself.

My mother used to read to me every night before bed. I basically memorized that illustrated book of nursery rhymes, and the multitude of Ladybird Disney fairytale books which were 3000% over-simplified transcripts of the movies. I’m telling you, I was such a fairytale addict, I could have eaten Disney for breakfast, lunch and supper. My dad had a subscription with Blockbuster, and every time he went to borrow movies, I’d tell him not to come back without Snow White – then he could pick for me whatever other irrelevant thing he thought I’d like. Just get me Snow White. (And Inspector Gadget.) These are the two movies I’ve watched most in my lifetime.

Anyway, back to the reading before bed. (My writing is really scattered right now because I’m typing directly rather than typing up what I’ve written down physically, and my typing speed is really fast so I’m putting my thoughts down nearly at the same rate of mayhem they occur in my head. Messy.) I think I memorized the words so I kind of thought I was reading, but I really wasn’t.


I had a Judy Blume book called Double Fudge. It was the only real book that I had – by which I meant it wasn’t a transcribed Disney movie or a book of nursery rhymes. And I tried so many times to read it because I wanted to get smart but dangit, it just wasn’t working!

And then one day, my aunt came down from Ohio, and she brought me this storybook, by the person I would one day call my father. The book was called “The BFG”.


Now I’m about to tell you about my family.

My dad: Roald Dahl

I’ve probably read 90% or above of all of Roald Dahl’s Children’s books. I kind of lived on Roald Dahl. I call him my father because he was the first writer whose imagination really blew me away. It was he that inspired my love for reading, and I might be an entirely different person if I hadn’t discovered him exactly at the time that I did.

“Double Fudge” was just tough and I could never get past the first few pages. But as soon as I started reading “The BFG” (which is a book about a girl who meets a Big Friendly Giant, who is actually really small for giant size), I was like, “This is MAGICAL! I want more, more, more!” And thus, the addiction began.

Dahl was British, Dahl was brilliant, Dahl died 8 years before I was born. Dahl was a lexivist; he made up so many words which have somehow stuck with me till today. Among them is the word “whizzpop”, which was used in The BFG to mean “fart”.


Sometimes, other books I would read would start to bore me, and I’d think, “Ugh, why can’t you be as magical as Dahl?” and then I’d go right back to The BFG and then read it again. I’m very prone to go back to things I love, like an addict. I don’t get those people who say they can’t watch a movie plenty times or read a book more than once. I always remember how these things made me feel, and I so I know where to look when I want to feel that way. I started reading The BFG biannually (the type of biannually that means two timesi n one year), from the year I was 7 to like the year I was 12. I haven’t read it again since then. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that I will no longer be able to find that book in my house. But I’ll always remember Roald Dahl, and The BFG, for first making me love words.

Also, my mother had this friend who had this library somewhere near Spintex, and that became my favourite place on the planet. The maximum number of books you could borrow at a go was 3. I was so insistent and voracious that I was allowed to take 10 at a time. It was a usual thing for me to read seven books a week, during summer holidays. Antisocial? Yah, dazz meh!

Don’t even let me get into my Harry Potter craze. This post won’t end today! So we pause here…

We’ve talked about consuming books…Now let’s talk about making them.

My mother: Enid Blyton


This woman got me writing. She gets all the credit for this one. My English teachers never did jack for me. Creative Writing was an utter bore; there was very little that was creative about the writing I had to do for classes.

But there was some time that I did really well in school and I asked my parents to buy me a book as a reward on Open Day. They bought me two or three. All by Enid Blyton, all in the same series. I stayed up and read the first one that night. Somehow, I was a way faster reader when I was ten years old than I am now and might ever be again.

I remember reading all her mystery stories (I’ve probably read more books by Enid Blyton than I have read of anyone else, ever, in my life.) and thinking, “This is super cool. What if this all happened in Ghana rather than England?”

And so I began re-imagining. Of course, this was at a time when the only Ghanaian/African stories I had ever read were those small, MacMillan publications about Kofi and Ama, and the moral of the story is don’t have premature sex and whatever. I was bored. I was tired of stories with morals that you could QUOTE, without metaphors. I was tired of being constantly told that the art of storytelling was not an art unless it was utilitarian in a very, very obvious way. I remember my performing arts and English teachers shooting all my stories down because they were meant to entertain rather than to give people moral advice, because evidently, “I couldn’t write like an African.” Wharreva. LOL.

But yeah, I was ten years old, I lived in Labone, and I recreated Enid Blyton mystery stories – right there in Labone, in the streets I knew best, with kids who were just like me – caught in a strange national identity crisis – even though I didn’t know it then. I have a copy of the first story I ever wrote right here with me now, in soft copy. It was a mystery story called “Search for the Voice,” about a ten-year-old girl who went all around the neighbourhood looking for her voice, because she’d “lost” it. Corny, I know. Leave me alone, I was ten. Haha, I wrote it when I stole (I mean borrowed) my father’s old laptop when he wasn’t home one time. (Eventually, I started “borrowing” it so much and so often he let me have it. Once I had a laptop I stopped sleeping, o! MSWord was my BFF.)

That same year, I started a whole mystery series of a group of Ghanaian pre-teens called “Mini-Police”, which I couldn’t be bothered to continue past Mini-Police 3. These were all modelled after Enid Blyton mystery stories! The “Famous Five” series and the “Secret Seven” series and the “Mystery Of” series and all of that jazz! I used to write feverishly, waking up at 2am to write and sleeping at 4, producing hundreds of pages, after which I would proofread, and then email to a handful of friends who were interested, when I was done. I felt like a legit writer, you know.


My sister: Chimamanda


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whom I am in love with, and would like to make my best friend one day, was the first person who actually showed me that I had something to write for. Before I even read any book of hers, I was exposed to her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”. This was like four years ago. I was thirteen or fourteen then. I swear when I watched it I was like, “This is true! Yes! Exactly what I’ve been thinking! Whoa, madam, who are you and why have I never heard of you before?”

Turns out I’d never heard of her before because nobody in my domestic life knew her, and my academic system didn’t think she was worth mentioning to me.

Anyway, I fell in love with Chimamanda, and she’s probably the one African writer I relate with most which is really weird because I haven’t had even a quarter of the experiences she has had. Perhaps we just think alike. All I know is that she inspires me greatly, both as a writer and as a person. It might sound cliché, I know because “Oh, everyone loves Chimamanda”. But she’s amazing. Sometimes I think I watch/listen to her more than I even read her. But that’s not entirely true. I read her. Except that I haven’t read Purple Hibiscus. For no sensible reason too. It’s just been sitting on my Kindle for years. I’m really pathetic. LOL.


My twin: Paulo Coelho


Paul and I sometimes seem to share a brain. I won’t even say much. Just go and read Veronika Decides to Die, the book which has made my life. Please and thank you!

Share your literary stories with me too!


P.S. about Double Fudge – eventually I went back and read it, and liked it so much that I read the rest of the Fudge series! LOL, imagine!

My Thoughts: Half of a Yellow Sun

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I know, I know, this is a book that everybody has read, and if I like reading so much, why haven’t I read it yet, and blah, blah, blah. Enough with the accusations. The truth is, I haven’t really been a very wide reader for most of my life, and the monotony of those MacMillan books by Ghanaian and Nigerian authors began to throw me off. But then, I wanted to know exactly what this book was about, so I stole borrowed it from my uncle and aunt in Canada.

Let’s start on a teasing note: the cover of the book. Aside from the fact that most books ‘about Africa’ have un-coincidentally similar covers, this one in particular…is paradoxical.

I saw this on Tumblr. Fascinatingly misleading, isn’t it?

On it, you see the bold title, “Half of a Yellow Sun”. Right behind it is indeed a “yellow sun”. But it is clearly a fully circular one. Therein lies the problem.

The mentioned paradoxical cover.
The mentioned paradoxical cover.

On to other matters…

I have discovered that I REALLY don’t like war. I can’t say I disliked this book, because that would be a lie; it’s beautifully written, and entirely captivating. I felt the authenticity of the characters and the plot. But I hesitate to say that I liked the book, for purely ethical reasons. Is it morally right to say you liked a book about war? Isn’t it a bit sadistic? At least I can say that it’s a good book.

However, it depressed me. It’s not like I’ve never read about war before. I’ve read Roald Dahl’s biography. I’ve read The Book Thief. And I’ve read dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games and Divergent. But apart from Dahl’s biography, I don’t believe/remember that I’ve ever read about war like THIS. It’s the reality of the war that depressed me. The book may have been fiction, but the Biafran war wasn’t. And the idea of a war, in the decade my parents were born, only a few countries away from the one I live in, on the very same continent, and the knowledge about how people suffered from something like this…scares me.

Still, I think the whole thing could have been avoided. That’s the thing with my perspective: I don’t feel like Biafra needed to exist in the first place. It all seems so…unnecessary. Did the Igbo REALLY need to break away from Nigeria? Was it REALLY necessary? How I feel about almost all the wars I’ve ever read about is that they are fighting for nothing. It might be a bit ludicrous that the only war I thought was sensible was the one in The Hunger Games trilogy.

I know I haven’t talked much about the book itself, but this isn’t a review; it’s a few of my thoughts. There was a long list of books at the back page centred on the Biafran war, but I doubt I’ll intentionally be going near them anytime soon. At least not for a while. War is definitely not my thing. I do, however, love and admire the gorgeous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a lot and I hope I get to meet her someday.