Maya Jones shares her love for the literary legend, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This article was originally published in Issue 10, December 2015. To read the full print magazine, visit:
Until recently, I had never heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah had been sitting in the same spot on my bookshelf for over a year gathering dust and I had completely forgotten about its existence. Then three of my housemates began to relentlessly discuss her brilliance. I don’t like to be left out, so I picked it up.
In a Guardian review, Elizabeth Day claimed that:
‘There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a book that manages to do both.’
Indeed, the narrative is faultless. A beautiful love story that follows Ifemelu and Obinze as they attempt to reconcile with each other and their home Nigeria, it moves from country to country, character to character and yet never feels disjointed.
Most importantly however, Americanah is a novel about race. It is because of this exploration that Day suggests Adichie’s book has the potential to change the way we look at the world. Through a series of blog posts entitled ‘Understanding America for the Non-American Black,’ Adichie directly challenges different modern and global attitudes to race. Much of these are central to feminism being intersectional, such as Adichie’s exploration of privilege and the myth of a ‘united league of the oppressed.’
Arguably, these blog posts sit too bluntly within the otherwise smooth narrative. Whilst the majority of the novel subtly explores modern attitudes to race, it is only within these blog posts that Adichie’s voice comes through Ifemelu to openly and unrestrainedly condemn and challenge such attitudes. Yet through these posts, Adichie is forcing the reader to confront serious issues that are often brushed over; any discomfort from the reader only arises because of a truth resounding throughout these direct posts.
As I am one of those obsessive readers, I finished Americanah quicker than I would have liked and she became, if possible after reading only one book, a literary favourite. A quick Google and I found that at 38, she is the author of three novels: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and, of course, Americanah. Her poetry collection, Decisions, was published in 1997 when she was just 21 years old.
Half of a Yellow Sun was recently named the ‘best of the best’ for the Bailey’s prize for women’s fiction.
Then I watched her TED talk. I am always inspired by anyone who can stand in front of a room of people – and the internet – and deliver a speech that is so personal with confidence. For feminism is always personal, Adichie tells us this. She starts with an anecdote about the first time she was called a feminist in disgust by her friend and pretended she knew what that word meant; she finishes with a reference to her great-grandmother, who ‘did not know the word feminist but it doesn’t mean that she wasn’t one.’
It is undeniably refreshing to watch somebody you admire adopt the label feminist. It would be a lie to say that my 11-year-old, Hermione- obsessed self did not jump for glee when Emma Watson did the same. So when Adichie stood in front of the Internet and declared herself a ‘Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men,’ I loved it.
Adichie’s TED talk has now been condensed into a concise and interesting essay ‘We Should All Be Feminists,’ which explores what it means to her to be a woman and a feminist, in Nigeria. The essay now has a special place on our living room table and next time somebody labels me an ‘angry feminist’ I am going to quote Adichie:
‘I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry.’
Illustration by Leyla Reynolds