I recently finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The book, published in 2013, is about Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S., attends university, starts her professional career and writes a blog about her experiences of America. The novel started slow and it took me about 75 pages to really get into it. At that point though, it turned from a novel about a Nigerian woman into a commentary about race, gender, and politics in the U.S. interspersed with the universal themes of family, friends, and growing up.
When I moved away from the U.S. to live in Paris when I was 23, I remember how many people told me it would be a great experience because I would, "learn so much about France and Europe." What actually happened was that I learned more about the United States than anywhere else. I was challenged. I was humbled. I was shocked. It is only from being outside something that you can sometimes really see it for what it is- seeing the forest instead of the trees sort of thing- and this includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since I am now living in my fifth country on my third continent, so much of what Adichie writes resonates with me about the U.S. I have learned to see it for both its glory and its despair.
On race: "He kept flagging the dialogue in the manuscript and writing in the margins: 'Do people actually say this?' And I'm thinking, Hey, how many black people do you know? I mean know as friends. I don't mean the receptionist in the office and maybe the one black couple whose kid goes to your kid's school. I mean really know know. None. So how are you telling me how black people talk?"
On gender and sex: "If anything happens between you and Obinze, you are both responsible. But Nature is unfair to women. An act is done by two people but if there are any consequences, one person carries it alone."
On politics and Obama: "'Is Obama anything but black?' So lots of folk- mostly non-black- say Obama's not black, he biracial, multiracial, black-and-white, anything but just black. Because his mother was white. But race is not biology; race is sociology. Race is not genotype; race is phenotype. Race matters because of racism. And racism is absurd because it's about how you look. Not the blood you have. It's about the shade of your skin and the shape of your nose and the kink of your hair. Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass had white fathers. Imagine them saying they were not black... If a random black guy commits a crime today, Barak Obama could be stopped and questioned for fitting the profile. And what would that profile be? 'Black Man.'"
The book is not all about race; instead, it is a journey to the U.S. through another's eyes. It is refreshing. It is needed. It is a beautiful, and painful in some cases, story to read as it exposes both the best and worst of the characters and of America.