“Why did people ask ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

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 Information:

About the author 

Other works by the author

Interview with the author 

 

Interview with the author

 

We Should All Be Feminists TED Talk 

 

Onyeka Onwenu music

 

Fela music

 

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

 

Next Meeting:

August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth 

 

The African American Experience: BCALA Award Winners

The African American Experience blog photo

Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) Literary Award These awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2019, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The following list includes all winning and honor titles in JMRL’s collection.

 

2020

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (1st Novelist Award)

A Virginia slave narrowly escapes a drowning death through the intervention of a mysterious force that compels his escape and personal underground war against slavery. By the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me.

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Winner Fiction)

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow delinquent; Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

 

Africaville: A Novel by Jeffrey Colvin (Honor Fiction)

Three generations of a family of former slaves, the founders of a small Nova Scotia community, navigate prejudice, harsh weather and estrangements against a backdrop of the historical events of the 20th century.

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The African American Experience: A Reading List for Antiracism

The African American Experience blog photo

What is antiracism? What does it mean to be antiracist in America? The following list contains works focused on recognizing, acknowledging, and addressing racism and white supremacy. 

 

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.

 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair–and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend? Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they impact almost every aspect of American life.

 

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would become a cultural movement. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it… Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and over 80,000 people downloaded the supporting work Me and White Supremacy. Updated and expanded from the original edition, Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too

 

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