Archive for June, 2014

AMERICAH-NO

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie may have been shortlisted for the 2014 Bailey’s Prize, but it received a thumbs-down from Berwick Book Group. We had all previously enjoyed ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, Adichie’s novel about the Biafran conflict, and so we had great expectations for this ‘richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world’. Perhaps we were expecting too much; ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ had a big tale to tell but, despite the cover blurb claim that it spans ‘three continents and numerous lives’, Americanah is a much smaller story.
The book follows Ifemelu and Obinze from their teens to their early thirties. The cover blurb reads, ‘As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?’
We all found Ifemelu , the main protagonist, to be a somewhat unsympathetic character, particularly in the ways she treated the other characters. Bronwyn described her as ‘unattractive, pious, arrogant and judgemental’. We discussed whether the author was writing this character with any sense of distance or irony but Glynis thought not because there was no counterpoint, plus she found the authorial voice just as ‘hectoring’. Anne described Ifemelu succinctly as ‘a whingeing waste of space’.

Feeling that Ifemelu had taken enough of a battering, I asked what the group thought of Obinze, the male protagonist. The main complaint here was about stereotyping. Martin didn’t like the Nigerian stereotypes around graft and corruption, and Glynis was equally critical of the stereotypical characters Obinze meets in London.

Plot was another issue. Glynis found it boring and Bronwyn thought it was classic Mills & Boon ‘girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy’ plot. Martin could not really comment on the plot because, as he later wrote, ‘I didn’t get very far into the book. A world where a person can make a living from a blog is beyond my understanding. Who pays them? I got as far as Nigeria and a man whose sole interest was in getting rich by operating a swindle set up by another man who’d been doing it longer and more successfully was anathema. I gave up. Shallow, dreary and unbelievable.’

Although I had also found Americanah an uninspiring read, I was beginning to feel sorry for the book! I wondered whether anyone had liked anything. I offered Ifemelu’s Nigerian perspective on America when she first arrived there. Everyone agreed that her healthy, commonsense attitude set against the American tendency to pathologise made for some amusing episodes.

We finished with some reading recommendations from members:
The Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howey
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Courtiers by Lucy Worsley
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

Ann Coburn

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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

June 2014
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