I was first introduced to your work, with a lot of the rest of the world, when Queen Bey referenced your speech in her track ‘Flawless’. Since then I have gone on to watch a lot of your TED Talks speeches online, I’ve watched Half of a Yellow Sun starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor and now I have also read your book Americanah. I am thoroughly inspired.
In this digital age, where social media influences more people than the news, it is frustrating when important movements like feminism are misinterpreted into something negative. Your work is helping to re-educate women and men everywhere and for that I am truly grateful. I love how your speeches about gender equality are reflected in your multifaceted fictional characters and how you depict Africa in such an honest way. Your descriptions of Nigeria in Americanah made me homesick for Sierra Leone, in a way that no other fictional story has.
The story is based on two high school sweethearts and told across three continents and many years of absence from each other. It analyses race relations in England, Nigeria and America and examines the experience of an African person in those countries. It covers all the niche topics that people generally don’t talk about when it comes to race and differing attitudes and customs. Having spent time in each of these countries, I could relate to a lot of the points raised.
It also opened my eyes to some of the constraints and reasoning behind immigration to the Western world. The media would have you believing that every immigrant leaves their country because they perceive the West as better and aren’t comfortable in their homeland. The reasons for immigration are really complex, sometimes the West appeals because of the attitudes of the people you grew up around who see America and England through rose-tinted glasses. Sometimes it is seen as a sign of status or a way to bring new knowledge to your community. Sometimes it is for love or just simply a new start. Not everyone wants to leach off the government and not everyone sees the third world as inferior.
Your words are a big part of the growing TINA (This Is New Africa) movement, which aims to change outdated and often negative perceptions of Africa. You tackle both the untold gems of African culture and the not-so-secret ugly underbelly. You also juxtapose traditional Nigeria and new Nigeria, detailing all the changes that have taken place in between. Your descriptions have helped me to understand a lot about modern Nigerian culture and the way things are done there.
I love the fluidity of the chapters and how the book was structured to reflect the personal growth of the characters, in relation to how their relationship has matured and the reasons for their growing separation. The main characters Ifemelu and Obinze were represented as realistically flawed, but deeply in love with each other. However, their open minded attitudes served as a severe contrast to some of the other supporting characters in the book, who represent more traditional views.
I was enamoured with Obinze; his intelligence, his views on women and marriage and his clear feelings for Ifemelu. Their bond was real and based on way more than the superficial, which most relationships seem to stem from these days. He loved her for her mind and spirit, that kind of love is unconditional. He respected strong women and despised pretence for status and gossip, having been raised by an educated, independent woman. African men usually have a reputation for wanting submissive wives who take on traditional domestic roles and I am so happy that he defied that stereotype, because it is untrue for a lot of men.
I noticed that in both Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, the matriarch roles were filled by women who gave sensible advice that went against the outdated notions of the 1950s. These women raised topics of self-love, protected sex and staying true to yourself even when you fall in love. They are great role models for any young girls reading these amazing texts. Sadly, these lessons are usually downplayed in favour of the ability to cater to your man and being a ‘good’ wife by fulfilling your duties in the bedroom and kitchen.
The protagonist Ifemelu was an outspoken naturalista who moved to the States to further her education and ended up educating the masses through the use of her blog entitled: ‘Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black’. Her blog served as a series of uncomfortable racial observations and enabled her to gain a fellowship at the prestigious Princeton University. However, Obinze’s experience of life in the West was less sweet, with him being deported from London for attempting to engage in a sham marriage for a visa.
I commend you for using mainly African names for the characters and celebrating their meanings as beautiful. A lot of African children growing up in the Western world seem embarrassed by their names, as they are deemed ‘unusual’ and impossible to pronounce by their Western teachers and friends alike. The terms ‘Freshie’ and ‘Aff’ are usually tossed around meant as a jokey insult, but no one wants to feel different during puberty. Young people don’t realise that being different is something to be proud of and having a name with deep origins actually makes you more interesting than the average person.
We need more academics and free thinkers from Africa to tell their unique stories and share their perceptions of being African around the world. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and contradict precedent. The world needs to see the hidden treasures of the original continent and its people to better understand the ways in which we can improve our globe and interactions with each other. The potential for improvement is astounding. Grab your copy now!
Like this review? Check out my review of ‘Calling Me Home‘ by Julie Kibler.
A good book always inspires me and makes me see the world a little differently, take a look at my countdown of other books and movies that have had the same effect.