Finally I’ve got an African book on my list! In April (yes I know this post is a little backdated) I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is a Nigerian author.
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu who is preparing to move back to Lagos after many years in America. Her decision to move back home prompts her to dwell on life before and after moving to America, the changes she’s seen in herself and the world around her.
When she arrived in the US to attend college, Ifemelu discovered that America wasn’t quite the land of plenty that she had been expecting. She had an exceedingly difficult introduction to live in the states and one of the main issues she struggled with was American views towards race. She says at one point that she wasn’t ‘black’ until she moved to America because race isn’t a thing that exists in Nigeria but all of a sudden she was having to deal with stereotypes and ignorance at every turn. To the extent that she starts what turns out to be a very popular blog about race in the USA, excerpts of which are peppered throughout the book.
I enjoyed this book (although I have to admit that one or two of the blog extracts got me a little riled because they could be very judgmental towards white people and could be somewhat offensive, I do however get the point) and I thought it was interesting to see someone both leave and then return to their own country and the struggles to fit in that go with both scenario. Adiche’s writing is incredibly powerful and her descriptions made me feel as if I know Lagos myself!
A minor quibble would be that this book is sold as a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze and a ‘will they-won’t they’ scenario after their return to Nigeria whereas in actual fact this is a situation that takes up less than a third of the book. Fine by me but if that’s what you’re in to you might be disappointed!
Interestingly, I’ve just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun, an earlier novel by the same author, which I enjoyed even more. The story is set in the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967, a conflict I’d never heard of and is told by three people who have very different experiences – the rich, beautiful Olanna, her house boy Ugwu and her twin sister’s lover, the white man Richard. I enjoyed this book much more, I learned a lot about something I was completely unaware of as well as getting to really know and care for some wonderful characters who I felt much more interested in then I did with Ifemelu. I read Half of a Yellow Sun for my book group (even though I’m probably going to miss this month’s meeting as well) but it was so well timed that I delayed this post so that I could include it at the end.
And now, because I know you guys love this part as much as I do…the graphs!
Note the exciting addition of the turquoise segment!
And of course the map:
It’s been a good while since I last read a book on The List but I’ve put that right by going for a high one – number 11, Catch-22.
To be honest I knew very little about this book going into it. I knew it was about the war and I knew that my dad loved it, neither of which suggested that it was something I would enjoy. Happily I was wrong.
The story, in a nutshell, is of Captain Yossarian and his crew as they try to survive the last few months of World War II, preferably in one piece. Yossarian gives us a very personal outlook on war. He can’t understand why everyone around him is trying to kill him – there may be a war on but why does that mean that HE has to die? It’s a view that the other characters find hard to relate to but I think that’s exactly how I’d feel if I ever found myself in his position.
Since this is a book about war and dying, I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog and somewhat depressing. The absolute last thing that I was expecting was to find it so funny that I actually laughed out loud but I did, on many occasions. The subject matter may not be particularly funny but the way it’s told is. Yossarian as out main character has a very dry outlook on life which is something I enjoy but aside from that, all the characters are constantly tripping each other up and turning things round on each other in order to get what they want. It’s very cleverly written and very funny.
But of course it IS a book about war and there is a political point being made here. There is a turning point towards the end of the book where things get a lot darker pretty fast and it can be hard to keep on reading but it’s definitely worth it. I have to admit to struggling with the end of the book, it all got a bit weird and dream-like for a while but right at the last minute Heller pulled it back and wrote an ending which had me practically singing it was so good.
50 years after it was published, it’s easy to see why Catch-22 is considered a classic; I haven’t read many books about war and I don’t plan on reading many more but I’m glad I read this one. Heller has perfected the art of discussing a serious message within layers of humour that make it almost palatable. I think the best way to sum it up is with a quote from the book itself:
“Who’s they?” He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”
“Because…” Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all.”