Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We chose this book because it’s exploration of race and racism in America, originally published in 2013, remains piercingly relevant this summer. The novel follows Ifemelu from her childhood in Nigeria to her education in America and her return to Nigeria as an adult Americanah, a Nigerian who has been Americanized. Through her popular blog, Ifemelu explores what it means to be Black and African in America, the politicization of the Black body and the precariousness of womanhood worldwide.
The length of the book prevented many of the members from finishing it before we met. However, even though we found the first two thirds more compelling than the end, we couldn’t point to sections that could have been omitted outright. We delved into the framing story of Ifemelu in an American hair salon shortly before she returns to Nigeria. It was both a clever way to organize the sweeping story and a way to focus on how Ifemelu remains distant from African Americans but exposed to the worst of racism in America. Indeed, her blog becomes popular after she writes about wearing her hair naturally. Comments and criticisms flood in, proving that even innocuous choices are politized in a Black body. By remaining anonymous in the blog, she can tightly focus on her personal story as a African in America and refuses her African American boyfriend’s request to use it for his social justice goals.
Ifemelu cannot get legal work in America due to immgiration law, even though she enters the country legally. She must use someone else’s identity to take low paying jobs, including sex work. Her child care job reminded some book club members of Such a Fun Age. Her high school boyfriend, Obinze, loves American culture but due to personal connections, migrates to the United Kingdom for work. Britons claim that migrants there don’t experience racism as they do in America, but Obinze’s experience proves otherwise. Both Ifemelu and Obinze are embarrassed by things they are forced to do as migrants, which exacerbates their separation over 15 years. This called to mind Normal People for some readers.
Both the author and narrator are dedicated to honesty. It’s this truth telling that attracts Ifemelu and Obinze to each other and keeps them apart when they cannot share the full breadth of their lives outside of Nigeria. Their reunion as adults ends the novel on a hopeful note without distracting the reader from the uncomfortable truths of racism in America.
Books on Tap will meet again on August 6 via Zoom. For information, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org). We’ll be reading The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. JMRL owns this book in print and as a downloadable book from Freading. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download.
More Nigerian Fiction
Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham
Blackass by Adrian Igonibo Barrett
Everyday is for the Thief by Teju Cole
Open City by Teju Cole
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Measuring Time by Helon Habila
The Travelers by Helon Habila
Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila
And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin
The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson
Multiple titles by Chinua Achebe
Multiple titles by Nnedi Okorafor
August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth