Just let the author’s name roll off your tongue a few times. That’ll prepare you for a voyage to exotic African locales. However, by the time you’ve completed this close-to-six-hundred page novel what has seemed exotic will have taken on a new normalcy, while aspects of London and America may seem strange and new to you.
This novel is hefty in many ways besides length . Adichie doesn’t hesitate to jump into issues of race; class; tribalism; cross-cultural conflict and gender. The protagonist Ifemelu writes blogs with headings such as :“Understanding America for the Non-American Black: What Hispanic Means”. They’re scattered throughout the book and are witty, perceptive, and pull no punches. Consider them delicious side dishes accompanying the main course. That main course being the life and loves of Ifemeluas she makes a life inNigeria, Princeton, and other places on the American Eastern seaboard.
Here’s another metaphor describing the relation between the blogs and the text of the novel. The blogs expose the racist, classist, sexist prejudices and stereotypes influencing the daily life of African and non-African blacks living in America. But those prejudices and stereotypes are generalizations. It is in the unfolding story of Ifemelu that they attain palpable life. The blogs are the skeleton. The rest of the novel is by-turns firm, slack, shaky, voluptuous and vulnerable – the flesh of the book.
Another way this novel is all-encompassing is that it includes both the sensory and cerebral. Colors, sights, smells (both appealing and repulsive) are very much part of the narrative, as is Ifemelu’ssex life. How refreshing and authentic to have a protagonist who doesn’t simply enjoy sex (or not). Her sexual responses are always dependent on the context – the physical and social setting, her mood, who she is with and their mood. Body, heart, and mind are all part of her enjoyment, or lack of it.
At its core this novel is a moving bildungsroman and a poignant love story. Wewitness thematuring of a young woman who must deal with the obstacles placed in her way by racism, sexism, and classism as she struggles towards self-fulfillment. What adds to the excitement and satisfaction of reading Ifemelu’s story is the knowledge that ChimamandaNgozi Adichie’sstory is similar. She as the author, is certainly fulfilling her artistic potential and this book serves as a wonderful testament to that fact.
Frank Rubenfeld, Ph.D. is a BAGI Trainer and Faculty Member. For more, go to www.frankrubenfeld.com