June 2017 - Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

bookclub
americanah

(Jennifer D.) #41

these are such thoughtful and interesting response, @Jane_Dixon!! thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. i am away from my home office just now, but will reply more later this evening.

i am so glad we are reading this book tougher just now -- the issues adichie wrote about are so important, relevant and timely today, and it's great to be able to consider and talk through the ideas and challenges she is presenting in her book.


(Jennifer D.) #42

Hi, all!!

Please feel free to chat openly about the novel up to the end of chapter 28.

I will be taking tomorrow (June 18th) off, and will be offline. I will have the summary and discussion questions posted for you on Monday.

I'm really curious about how the read is going for you all!

Are you keeping along alright with the schedule? A little behind? Ahead?

I hope you all have a great Sunday!

:blush:


(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #43

I'm going to be behind a few days now...I have to get The Practice House read in under 2 days now! :slight_smile: Loan from the library is due. I already had to let another one go back unread because I turned my attention more to The Practice House. So once I send that one back (it's really good! I really like it) I'll get back to reading this next section for Americanah.

Have a great day off @Jennifer_D!


(Kim@Time2Read) #44

I had to drop out this month and I'm so disappointed. Things just got really busy here suddenly and I've had little time to read. I still hope to finish this book. I just don't know when.
I want to know what happens! Now I have to decide if I want to wait until I have time to read the book, or if I'm going to read your summaries and spoil it for me!


(Jennifer D.) #45

@Kim -- sorry to hear this, but no worries at all beyond your dilemma about the summaries! :blush: the thread will remain open, so whenever you get a chance to restart the read, we would love to hear your thoughts on the story!! i hope there is some calm not too far ahead for you!!


(Jennifer D.) #46

good luck with the library juggling, @Penny_Kollar!! :blush:


(Jennifer D.) #47

Here are the summary and discussion questions for the reading which finished up yesterday!

Week 3:


June 11th - 17th: Chapter 16 through end of 28 (pgs. 196 - 324)


Summary

Chapter 16

  • Ifemelu begins to work for Kimberley and Don - kids, Morgan and Taylor
  • Ifemelu puts off contacting Obinze; sets aside letter from him, unread
  • Kimberley’s sister, Laura, continues to be insensitive; Kimberley apologizes for Laura
  • Kimberley offers Ifemelu chance to live-in with them. Ifemelu declines, so Kimberley then gives Ifemelu use of their car. Ifemelu relates experience of her driving instructor correcting students’ answers on their tests, so all pass. Ifemelu hadn’t thought Americans cheated
  • Laura calls Ifemelu a “privileged Nigerian”
  • party at Kimberley and Don’s
  • Dike has changed since move to Mass. - not so transparent. Uju has changed too, and tells Ifemelu it’s “very white” where they now live

Chapter 17
* Ifemelu stops faking American accent, prompted by a telemarketer. Ifemelu questions “Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment to sound American?” (p. 215) Notes that ‘she’d won’ over Cristina Tomas… but didn’t feel very good about it
* Ifemelu meets Blaine while on the train to visit Uju and Dike
* Arrives at Uju’s -- Uju nurses her dissatisfactions then spills them out to Ifemelu
* Ifemelu surprised Uju still with Bartholomew - Uju wants a second child
* Dike going to summer camp - group leader gives all the kids sunscreen except for Dike. She tells him he doesn’t need it. Dike a little sad, just wants to be ‘regular’
* Blog post: American Tribalism

Chapter 18
* @ hair salon another customer comes in - she is South African, and has poor impression of Nigerians
* Another new customer comes in -- white woman wants braids. Preparing for trip to several African countries, so reading books. Ifemelu challenges her interpretations of the books
* Ifemelu thinks back to Curt - Kimberley’s cousin from Maryland - “His optimism blinded her.” (p. 242) His lifestyle is completely different to Ifemelu’s

Chapter 19
* Curt takes Ifemelu to meet his mother
* Ifemelu and Curt have Morgan for the weekend, while rest of family goes to Florida
* Curt gives Ifemelu the gift of contentment, of ease (p. 246) and she quickly becomes used to this life
* Ifemelu is sending money home to her parents; would like them to move to a safer flat in a better neighbourhood
* Ifemelu a communications major wasn’t having luck finding a job until Curt arranges one for her with a PR firm in Baltimore
* Ruth advises Ifemelu lose her braids and straighten her hair before interview - the relaxers burn her head and Curt is horrified.
* Ifemelu gets the job and is told she’s a “wonderful fit” with the company
* Blog post: What do WASPs Aspire To?

Chapter 20
* In Baltimore - Ifemelu has her own apartment, though spends much time at Curt’s place
* After hearing Curt use the word ‘blowhard’ in conversation with a friend, Ifemelu realizes, on some level, Curt would never be fully knowable to her
* Curt needed constant assurances “lighter than ego, but darker than insecurity”
* Ifemelu’s hair starts to fall out from all the chemical relaxers
* Wambui cuts off Ifemelu’s hair -- Ifemelu gets upset by her appearance; only 2 inches of new growth on her head
* Curt has been exchanging emails with a woman he met at a conference in Delaware - says nothing happened. Ifemelu leaves. But then forgives him when he shows up with flowers.
* Stays home from work for 3 days -- when returns, asked if hair is some sort of political statement
* Begins visiting websites that promote the beauty of natural hair
* Blog post: Why Dark-Skinned Black Woman Love Barack Obama

Chapter 21
* Ifemelu takes Curt to meet Uju and Dike
* Uju doesn’t like the “scruffy and untidy” natural hair
* Uju is not having it with Bartholomew -- he wants her to give him her salary
* Uju leaves Bartholomew
* Blog post: In America You Are Black, Baby

Chapter 22
* Ifemelu runs into Kayode at a mall… he’s living in D.C.
* Obinze had asked Kayode to find Ifemelu and make sure she is alright
* Obinze is in England
* Later that day, Ifemelu sends Obinze an email, addressed to “Ceiling”
* Curt senses Ifemelu is upset after seeing Kayode. Curt wants to be the love of Ifemelu’s life

Part Three

Chapter 23
* London -- Obinze
* Obinze has paid some Angolan men £2000 to arrange a marriage for him
* Meets Cleotilde - black, Angolan father, white, Portuguese mother. She received only £500 for the £2000
* Obinze had tried 4 times to get to America -- visa application continually rejected at Embassy in Lagos
* Trouble finding work in Nigeria; living with mother - she gets invited to a conference in London so manages a 6-month visa for Obinze as her research assistant
* His mother lies for him and he feels like a failure - didn’t contact his mother for months afterwards

Chapter 24
* Obinze has a job in London cleaning toilets
* One night, someone had left poop on the toilet lid and Obinze takes it as a personal affront and leaves work
* Receives Ifemelu’s email… deletes it and empties the trash
* Cousin Nicholas in London with wife, Ojiugo, son Nna, and daughter Nne. advises Obinze to get NI number so he can work, take all the jobs he can, spend nothing, marry an EU citizen
* Ojiugo doing everything for the kids, so they can have better education and better opportunities
* Obinze puzzled that Ojiugo not mourning for all the things she could have been
* Obinze wonders if it is a quality of women, or a learned trait to shield their personal regrets, suspend their lives, subsume themselves with childcare?

Chapter 25
* Emenike was first person Obinze called when he landed in ENgland - travels a lot and very busy
* Obinze calls his cousin Iloba for help getting an NI # - two weeks later a man named Vincent Obi agrees to let Obinze use his NI # for 35% of Obinze’s wages

Chapter 26
* Obinze goes through a few temp jobs until he lands at Roy Snell’s delivery warehouse
* He’s partnered with Nigel, who splits tips evenly with Obinze, unlike some of the other drivers
* Obinze gives Nigel advice on his love life

Chapter 27
* Obinze’s weekly treat to himself is a visit to a bookstore where he has an expensive coffee and reads all her can - to feel like himself again, and not Vincent (Vinny)
* Obinze is very lonely

Chapter 28
* Obinze’s boss and coworkers surprise him with birthday muffins and cokes (Vincent’s birthdate)
* Obinize feels ‘safe’ (p. 323)
* Vincent decides he wants 45% of Obinze’s wages, but obinze doesn’t increase his deposit to Vincent’s account. 1 week later, Roy receives an anonymous call so asks to see Obinze’s/Vincent’s passport
* Obinze leaves, sad and wishing he would have told Roy and Nigel his real name
* Years later, he calls Nigel from Nigeria with a job offer -- after “Chief” advises he needs a white man to front as a GM

Discussion Questions

  1. How do the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze compare during this section of the reading? Do they seem to be experiencing similar situations or feelings, or are their circumstances beyond comparable?
  2. How do Uju and Dike seem to be faring? Do Ifemelu’s relationships with her aunt and cousin seem strong to you?
  3. Are Curt and Ifemelu well-suited for one another? What kind of life does Adichie paint for us by introducing Curt into the storyline?
  4. Is working for Kimberley and Don and good situation for Ifemelu? Is Laura really that dense and insensitive? Is she serving a specific purpose for Adichie?
  5. When we catch up with Obinze in England, how did you feel while reading about his life?
  6. Why does Ifemelu reach out to Obinze by email at the time she chooses to do so? Is it important that her email is addressed to “Ceiling”?
  7. Was there any moment or quote in this section of our reading that really stood out to you, or surprised you?
  8. Are you liking the way Adichie has included blog posts for Ifemelu within the text? Are you finding the blog posts interesting?

Please - do remember that the questions posted are merely to serve as prompts or starting points! I hope you will not feel limited in any way by these questions and that you will feel free to raise you own discussion points, or ask questions you are wondering about!

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this section of the novel!!

:blush:


(Jennifer D.) #48

Hi, all!! Just thought I would check in and see you are all doing with the read.

(No pressure -- just curious and interested as this is still a new feature for us and we want to make sure it is working for you all, and enjoyable!!)

:blush:


(Jane D) #49

I am a bit behind in the reading. I am on pg.250. But I will have an opportunity to get more done today as I will be o a plane....always a great place to sink into a book.:blush:


(Jennifer D.) #50

awesome! safe travels, jane!! (and, again... no pressure at all!!)

:blush:


(Jennifer D.) #51

good morning everyone!

though the above quoted reading is on tap for this week, it seems the timing for this month's book club read has been a bit tricky for some.

with that in mind, i am opening the discussion up for the entire novel today.

perhaps people who have already read the novel, prior to it being chosen here for our book club, would like to share their thoughts on the book, without worrying about spoilers. please feel free to do so!! :blush:

in lieu of my usual weekly summary, since we are now considering the whole novel, i am sharing some discussion questions provided by the novel's publisher (Penguin Random House). some of the questions touch on topics we have already considered, but perhaps your thoughts changed or expanded upon completing the read.

i am really looking forward to hearing about how this novel worked for you, what you liked about it, or what you struggled with while reading!

:blush:

Questions and Topics for Discussion

  1. The first part of Ifemelu’s story is told in flashback while she is having her hair braided at a salon before she returns to Nigeria. Why might Adichie have chosen this structure for storytelling? What happens when the narrator shifts to Obinze’s story? How conscious are you as a reader about the switches in narrative perspective?

  2. The novel opens in the Ivy League enclave of Princeton, New Jersey. Ifemelu likes living there because “she could pretend to be someone else, . . . someone adorned with certainty” (3). But she has to go to the largely black city of Trenton, nearby, to have her hair braided. Does this movement between cities indicate a similar split within Ifemelu? Why does she decide to return to Nigeria after thirteen years in America?

  3. How much does your own race affect the experience of reading this or any novel? Does race affect a reader’s ability to identify or empathize with the struggles of Ifemelu and Obinze? Ifemelu writes in her blog that “black people are not supposed to be angry about racism” because their anger makes whites uncomfortable (223). Do you agree?

  4. Aunty Uju’s relationship with the General serves as an example of one mode of economic survival for a single woman: she attaches herself to a married man who supports her in return for sexual access. But Uju runs into a serious problem when the General dies and political power shifts. Why, given what you learn of Uju’s intelligence and capabilities later, do you think she chose to engage in this relationship with the General instead of remaining independent?

  5. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is too eager to capitulate to the demands of fitting in. Uju says, “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (120). Is Uju right in compromising her own identity to a certain extent? How is Dike affected by his mother’s struggles?

  6. In the clothing shop she visits with her friend Ginika, Ifemelu notices that the clerk, when asking which of the salespeople helped her, won’t say, “Was it the black girl or the white girl?” because that would be considered a racist way to identify people. “You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things,” Ginika tells her (128). In your opinion and experience, is this a good example of American political correctness about race? Why does Ifemelu find it curious? Do you think these attitudes differ across the United States?

  7. For a time, Ifemelu is a babysitter for Kimberly, a white woman who works for a charity in Africa. Adichie writes that “for a moment Ifemelu was sorry to have come from Africa, to be the reason that this beautiful woman, with her bleached teeth and bounteous hair, would have to dig deep to feel such pity, such hopelessness. She smiled brightly, hoping to make Kimberly feel better” (152). How well does Kimberly exemplify the liberal guilt that many white Americans feel toward Africa and Africans?

  8. Ifemelu’s experience with the tennis coach is a low point in her life. Why does she avoid being in touch with Obinze afterward (157–58)? Why doesn’t she read his letters? How do you interpret her behavior?

  9. In her effort to feel less like an outsider, Ifemelu begins faking an American accent. She feels triumphant when she can do it, and then feels ashamed and resolves to stop (175). Which aspects of her becoming an American are most difficult for Ifemelu as she struggles to figure out how much she will give up of her Nigerian self?

  10. Ifemelu realizes that naturally kinky hair is a subject worth blogging about. She notices that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé never appear in public with natural hair. Why not? “Because, you see, it’s not professional, sophisticated, whatever, it’s just not damn normal” (299). Read the blog post “A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor” (299–300), and discuss why hair is a useful way of examining race and culture.

  11. What does Ifemelu find satisfying about her relationships with Curt and Blaine? Why does she, eventually, abandon each relationship? Is it possible that she needs to be with someone Nigerian, or does she simply need to be with Obinze?

  12. Ifemelu’s blog is a venue for expressing her experience as an African immigrant and for provoking a conversation about race and migration. She says, “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” (406). She asks, “How many other people had become black in America?” (298). Why is the blog so successful? Are there any real-life examples that you know of similar to this?

  13. Obinze goes to London, and when his visa expires he is reduced to cleaning toilets (238); eventually he is deported. On his return home, “a new sadness blanketed him, the sadness of his coming days, when he would feel the world slightly off-kilter, his vision unfocused” (286). How does his experience in London affect the decisions he makes when he gets back to Lagos? Why does he marry Kosi? How do these choices and feelings compare to Ifemelu’s?

  14. While she is involved with Curt, Ifemelu sleeps with a younger man in her building, out of curiosity. “There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach” (291–92). Is this a common feeling among young women in a universal sense, or is there something more significant in Ifemelu’s restlessness? What makes hers particular, if you feel it is?

  15. When reading Obinze’s conversations with Ojiugo, his now-wealthy friend who has married an EU citizen, did you get the sense that those who emigrate lose something of themselves when they enter the competitive struggle in their new culture (Chapter 24), or is it more of a struggle to maintain that former self? Does Adichie suggest that this is a necessary sacrifice? Are all of the characters who leave Nigeria (such as Emenike, Aunty Uju, Bartholomew, and Ginika) similarly compromised?

  16. Aunty Uju becomes a doctor in America but still feels the need to seek security through an alliance with Bartholomew, whom she doesn’t seem to love. Why might this be? How well does she understand what her son, Dike, is experiencing as a displaced, fatherless teenager? Why might Dike have attempted suicide?

  17. Is the United States presented in generally positive or generally negative ways in Americanah?

  18. The term “Americanah” is used for Nigerians who have been changed by having lived in America. Like those in the novel’s Nigerpolitan Club, they have become critical of their native land and culture: “They were sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer” (408). Is the book’s title meant as a criticism of Ifemelu, or simply an accurate word for what she fears she will become (and others may think of her)?

  19. How would you describe the qualities that Ifemelu and Obinze admire in each other? How does Adichie sustain the suspense about whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be together until the very last page? What, other than narrative suspense, might be the reason for Adichie’s choice in doing so? Would you consider their union the true homecoming, for both of them?

  20. Why is it important to have the perspective of an African writer on race in America? How does reading the story make you more alert to race, and to the cultural identifications within races and mixed races? Did this novel enlarge your own perspective, and if so, how?


(MaryEve) #52

Hi. My book did arrive. I finally reached Chapter 13. Did get a slow start but I've gotten settled in and finally making a connection with the characters.


(Jennifer D.) #53

It's already the end of June!! Where did that time go?

Does anyone have last thoughts they would like to share about Americanah?

I realize the timing ended up not working for a lot of people -- please know this thread will remain open, and your comments or questions are welcome at any time.