Beth has already done a short review on this book so here I am to give a longer, spoilerier review. This is a dystopian novel set in a future post-nuclear-holocaust Sudan. It follows the life of Oyesonwu, a woman born of rape and blessed with magic powers that she will use to change the world. This novel did not shy away from presenting the horror of rape, weaponized rape, genocide and female genital mutilation. Okorafor has a powerful voice and I am really glad to have read this book. I am also looking forward to reading more by this author. After the cut, though, I am going to discuss some problematic things in this novel.
I started this audio book on a road trip. At first I thought it was going to be too heavy for the drive. (You have to be careful with the books you pick. If the text is especially dense or the story doesn’t move along at a decent clip you can find yourself frustrated with the story in a way that you wouldn’t be frustrated if you weren’t also in the middle of a really long drive). But, by the beginning of chapter two, I was hooked. The book centers on Ifemelu, a woman from Nigeria who at the opening of the story has been living in the US for a while and is now preparing to move home to Lagos. The narrative switches between her current life and her preparations for (and arrival in) Lagos, posts from her blog on being a Non-American Black in America, and the story of her past. And, the whole thing was so beautifully written. I cared so much for the cast of characters in this book. Ifemelu was so likable. She broke my heart and made me laugh and I cheered for her. She met a lot of white people who made me cringe. Sometimes I cringed because I saw myself in their behavior. Other times I cringed because their behavior was just so surprising because it violated Ifemelu’s person or autonomy and it is surprising to me (although it probably shouldn’t be) that it’s 2016 and we don’t treat everyone with respect for their person and their autonomy. Let me give you an example: WHY WOULD YOU TOUCH A STRANGER’S HAIR???? EVER???? WHY???? Or, even a friend/lover/family member’s hair outside of them saying, “Oh my god my hair is so soft today! Feel it!” or otherwise inviting you to do so???? Or, why would you speak really slowly and loudly to someone who is not from here after they’ve told you that they’re from a former British colony where English is currently an official language? I get it, Americans aren’t good at geography and Africa is a huge freaking continent but… Nigeria, while being a place with incredible linguistic density and diversity, is also full of English speakers. And, most American universities require that you demonstrate English proficiency before you enroll. (For potentially obvious reasons, that kind of stuck in my craw and annoyed me long after the story had moved on.) Ifemelu’s observations on American race relations, on Americans and charitable organizations and on Obama’s 2008 campaign alone made this book worth the read.
I’ve seen Adichie’s TED talk and I’ve read articles that she’s written for various publications but this is the first book by her that I’ve read. It won’t be the last. She has a singular voice. Her characters are real and vivid and this story tackled big topics without feeling like it was preachy and also without making them the center of the story. Racism and anti-racism were woven into the narrative and it gave me so much cause to think (See: the cringe worthy white people) without shouting at me that I should be thinking. That right there is a hallmark of an awesome book. I was still thinking about issues it eluded to long after I finished the book.
So, if you’re interested in reading a contemporary African author but, for some reason, you’re worried that an African author will have nothing to say to you that will be relevant to you or that you’ll understand, well, you should probably examine why you think that. But, while you’re examining your thinking, you can read Americanah. It’s a book written by an African author that is largely set here in the States. It’s amazing. You’ll love it.
This is my book by an African author for the Diverse Lives, Diverse Stacks Challenge