Meagan Reads Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up for black history month and finished it just before February ended.

Image from Goodreads

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman growing up in Africa with some of the same concerns as most teenagers, and some not so common.

As she navigates her youth and becomes a college student, the constant protests and walk-outs from the schools’ faculties makes it hard for her and her friends to get an education. She decides to go to America, leaving her high school sweetheart Obinze behind.

This novel is not told in chronological order, but that’s the base storyline from which all the other events and moments that take place are founded on. The book takes on the Herculean task of addressing numerous sociopolitical issues, from race to feminism to sexual assault to class to culture and so much more.

While the material sounds heavy and overwhelming, Adichie’s writing is so precise and focused, that it never feels like it’s all over the place. The story itself doesn’t take on a linear structure, but its commentary and social elements are clear and articulate.

Even when the protagonist is working through the issues herself, Adichie’s development of Ifemelu’s feelings and actions in regards to them feels like real life. Sure, the characterization conveys the sense of a messy human being, but the writing itself is never a mess.

The events throughout the novel are broken up by posts that Ifemelu writes for her blog, each one relating to the particular scene happening at the moment. It was interesting to see the character’s introspective moments take place in this format, as it presented her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a cohesive manner that couldn’t be conveyed by the narration.

One of the salient points that stood out to me is that Ifemelu is often irked by displays of false identities. She doesn’t care for two-faced people, and yet in participating in her blog that sends her into internet fame, she too wears a mask. This hypocrisy might make for an unlikeable character to some, but for me personally, I found it realistic and just plain human.

Of the many issues touched on in this novel, its handling of mental illness and how it is perceived in other cultures stood out. The basic understanding brought to light by the African characters surrounding Ifemelu is that mental illness and conditions are fake diseases made up by white people.

When Ifemelu experiences anxiety and depression, her best friend Ginika recognizes the symptoms and talks to her about it. Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju though, from an older generation, says it’s just another made-up disease created by the quirky American doctors who think everything is a disease.

The split between generations and cultures creates a striking picture of how “Americanized” those who emigrated have become. However, they are still seen as foreigners and outsiders in America, but when they return to Nigeria, they are now foreigners and outsiders to their homeland.

This idea of belonging to two places and no place all at once resonated with me, as I’ve seen it second-hand with my father, and how he’s been living in this country longer than the country he was born in, and whenever we go back to visit Ecuador, he’s an outsider there now. It’s a feeling I’m sure many readers will find rings true.

Adichie’s novel doesn’t necessarily provide answers or easy fixes to the issues discussed or the problems emigrants/immigrants face. Rather, she brings the discussions to light so that those who read the book may take on the conversation, the same way her characters have.

It Takes Two

I used to be one of those book snobs who scoffed at romance novels, but after educating myself on the gendered implications of the genre, I decided I wanted to try to get into at least one. I won’t lie. Letting go of my old prejudices that were deeply rooted in misogyny was not easy, and try as I might, it still kept a hold of me even as I ventured into romance novels. I just couldn’t get into them (see my previous post about that here).

Two of the recently million 4 books I was reading simultaneously this past month though, turned out to be grouped as romance on Goodreads. There was War Brides by Helen Bryan (a freebie I picked up ages ago from Amazon’s deal of the day) and still in progress Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, which I got on audio for a steal with Google Play books and a generous Book Riot promo code. I chose it because, yes, I want to see the movie and support marginalized communities in entertainment.

GR War Brides blog
Image from GoodReads

I just finished reading War Brides last night. Truthfully, I didn’t think it was so much a romance novel, because the love stories play so subtly in the background of everything else going on. It mostly focuses on the lives of 5 women converging in Crowmarsh Priors, England due to the circumstances of World War II. I suppose the true love story in this book was the relationship that developed between these women who didn’t all get along at first, but eventually a friendship was forged in the fires of the war.

Still, the weddings and romances that took place within the book allow this novel to fall into the romance category. Due to the time it takes place, intimacy is described mildly. So, here we have historical fiction with a major focus on getting through a war and female bonds, with a side of romance. I really enjoyed this book, as I kept wanting to read it instead of my textbooks for school. I was very much into the story plots of espionage, but I was equally charmed by the love stories between certain characters. I felt like I had an equal investment in the romance and surrounding story.

I’m currently still working my way through Crazy Rich Asians. This book is an absolute

GR CRA blog
Image from GoodReads

trip. It’s just so much fun. I come from a Latin-American background, so I can’t say that I totally relate to the culture, but I do see hints of my own family’s quirks within these characters. There’s an overly-involved matriarch who’s trying to find the dirt on her son’s new girlfriend, while the totally laid-back husband lets her go about her insanity because he knows there’s no fighting it. There’s a down-to-earth cousin who’s more of a sister and offers sage advice. This is definitely an example of “rich people problems,” but with a cultural twist that I find just absolutely enjoyable. Roxane Gay put it best in her review of it when she called it dishy.

With these two books, I think I’ve finally found my stride with the romance genre. I just have to find love stories that take place within other environments that catch my interest, be it historical fiction or just enjoying another cultural perspective.

Has anybody else had this struggle and found a solution that works for them? What are some other romance novels you can recommend? Let me know in the comments!

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Wrote this piece for my cousin’s blog. Follow the link below to read the full review!

Review of “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

via And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Meagan Reads YA: The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

For my workplace book club, a coworker chose The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I had my reservations about reading this book because of the accusations that recently came out about the author in light of the Me Too movement. I also knew that this was a book that’s been lauded and held in high esteem, and even challenged and banned by certain schools due to certain content.

sherman alexie blog postThe story follows Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a member of the Wellpinit community in Washington. It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up Indian in a racist country. It’s about growing up Indian in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. It’s about growing up Indian and poor. There are so many heavy and tragic topics that take place throughout the story, but it’s all told through Junior’s eyes, meaning it’s told with a wry sense of humor to soften the blow.

I really enjoyed the main character’s voice and his sarcasm aimed not only at the white community that mistreated his people, but at his own people too. It creates this complex and layered relationship between wanting to remain loyal, but wanting more than the life allotted by circumstance and the majority in power. It’s something that many marginalized people can relate to.

Here of course is where the conflict for me as a reader occurs. I truly enjoyed this book and think it’s a good piece of work that’s worth reading. But I can’t just forget the accusations about the author from the people he hurt. In fact, I can even see some of that attitude bleed through in the main character Junior. Sure, he’s a straight teenage boy, so he’s bound to talk about masturbation and look at girls with desire. At least, that’s what’s expected, because after all, boys will be boys. The danger in that expectation is that those boys grow up to be “men who’ll be men,” who in turn continue objectifying women and seeing them as things. This leads to men who “misbehave” and end up hurting women.

While the book is an excellent read and covers important topics with a genuinely funny voice, it’s hard not to notice the moments where adult Alexie and fictional Junior crossover into one another. It becomes a question of separating the art from the artist, which is something I’ve always struggled with. To what extent can we do so, and at what point do we stop separating the two? Because it’s obvious that no one is perfect and no art is perfect, but we have to make a stand somewhere.

Alexie’s new reputation is a blow to marginalized communities because he was such a strong voice for his own. Then again, maybe if more publishers championed more marginalized voices, it wouldn’t be such a detrimental hit to those communities in the first place.

Did anybody else read this book after what came to light about the author? Did anyone read it before? What are your thoughts on liking a book but not liking an author? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Wrote this post for my cousin’s blog. Check out the link below!

Here’s another backlist I recently read as part of a book club with my coworkers. I figured since it’s been slated for production as a television show with HBO though, it might be relevant to some media fans. Readers beware: spoilers are ahead! Also, tw: sexual assault, rape, violence. Here’s a quick rundown of the […]

via Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Diving into Diverse Reading

Lately, I’ve made a much more conscious effort at reading diversely. We chose The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu for my cousins’ book club. I read Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat for the 2018 Madlibs reading challenge. And for my book club at work with my coworkers, we’re reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read in the past, but it is so easy to fall into patterns, especially when those works get widely passed around by the mainstream. It’s easy to miss out on some truly excellent work from writers of different backgrounds simply because they are not given the same platform.

A few years ago when I started listening to the Book Riot podcast, it made me aware that I’d fallen into the pattern of reading the same authors and types of work. Not that those stories aren’t worth telling, but rather that other stories are worth telling also. So, I started curating a list of diverse reading on my Goodreads to read list. But I still didn’t get around to reading so many of those books until just a few months ago. Why? Well, I still have a whole library of books I own at home that I haven’t read and need to get through. Having those books I own still sitting on my shelf made it easy to keep with my reading patterns. I knew I still wasn’t reading diversely, but I had no one to hold me accountable.

With the use of reading challenges and book clubs though, the excuses stopped. Having people to discuss the books with made it easier to choose diverse stories. More than that, having a planned out list for reading challenges made me more conscious of what I was choosing to read, and I’m grateful for that. The reason I’m writing about this is because truly diving in diverse reading has made me aware that I really don’t know much about other cultures.

 

Image from Goodreads

Ken Liu’s work is the first I’ve read by a Chinese writer. Edwidge Danticat’s book is the first perspective I’ve read about Haitian immigrants and the political struggles that country has gone through. Nnedi Okorafor’s novel is the first time I’m delving into African culture. With just these three books, I’ve been introduced to new worlds that gave me an appreciation for what I still have yet to learn. I don’t want to be the kind of person who never thinks of other cultures and ways of living and buries her head in the sand. I want to learn about other people. I want to understand others’ stories and hear their voices. We can learn so much about each other through our stories, so I think all readers should make an effort to start diversifying their bookshelves. It’s not enough to make lists without taking action.

How do you all diversify you’re reading? What books have you read recently that tell a story different from your own life?