Berlin

Berlin

Mittwoch, 11. Dezember 2013

Americanah - A novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

""It's real literature, the kind of human story people will read in two hundred years," she said.
"You sound just like my mother", he said."

Reading this book gave me many moments of pure joy, because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a marvellous writer. Her prose is beautiful and once I've started, it's been hard for me to stop reading. Words simply flowing off the page into my heart and mind. The story is wonderful too, not to mention the characters. I would love to meet them all in person.
Book coverNot once during the long journey from Nigeria to New York to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Princeton to New Haven to London and back to Nigeria did I feel lost. The story and the characters are so closely woven into a convincing and beautiful pattern, that the reader is instantly at home in this and never gets lost (which I find a rare quality in books today-even books I like a lot, lose me at times, because the story loses pace  or the characters are not thoroughly convincing). I started reading the book, that a friend had sent me from Washington, while I was busy reading three other novels, and I only opened it to get a taste of it, something to look forward to, after I would have finished the other three novels.  But that first page already captured me and I could not stop reading. "Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemulu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well, had all smelled distinctly.... She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty."
I got the book in hardcover, so it approximately weighs a ton or something, because it also is a book with almost 500 pages, but I still carry it around with me ALL THE TIME to read as much as possible whenever possible.
reading in the  Deutsche Bahn, my priorty: wear pants matching the seats
and wear shoes matching the carpet!
This is the kind of novel I would move in to, if the characters let me. I have this feeling rarely. (Maybe the last book I wanted to move in to was Pride and Prejudice, but that was mainly because of Mr. Darcy).
Then, there were other moments, where I felt like: I am not the one who has the right to read it and it is not at all written for somebody like me. I am not black, I am not American, not even a white American, I am not African - this book is not about me at all. How would I be able to relate? But I do! How is this possible? It was possible and for me, this is the magic of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies writing, which I experienced also, when I read her novel "Half of the Yellow Sun". I could relate, even though I am German, I am white, the author is still somehow telling my story, because she is telling a story of universal humanity. There is truth for everybody in it.
A story about racism, immigration, home, America, Africa (Nigeria in particular), Europe (London in particular), Barack Obama becoming the first black US president, Michelle Obama and her hair, hair in general, braids in particular, blogging (did you know that there were two kinds of blacks in the US? American Blacks (AB) and Non American Blacks (NAB)? Well, I did not, but now I do and it opened my eyes in many regards, mostly concerning my own naivite. I did not mention, that this book also contains one of the most beautiful and touching love stories I have ever read, the one of Ifemulu and Obinze!
Obinzes experiences in London made me, for the first time, understand all those African men, standing in that park a block away from here, selling drugs. None of them came from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, from wherever, with the idea in mind: "Man, I am gonna make it to Germany and become a big, cool drug dealer." No, they just came here, hoping to find a life with some future, choices, security, maybe even dignity. But our society does not give them many chances to live in dignity, if any.
Everybody is a foreigner; and everybody is different. We tend to forget that. Maybe especially when we are white and living in a situation of security and relative comfort.
I never thought about how it would be to spend my vacation on Mallorca and being black, for example. I have never seen a black tourist on Mallorca. I am not saying, they could not be there. Maybe they are. I am only saying: I have not seen one in two vacations. They were not lying around my beach. While reading this book, I start to think about stuff like this. When I were black, I could not have my garden. It is in the deepest East German border to Poland region, no way, they would let me unharmed there. Probably my beautiful hut would by now be set on fire. I never saw a black person there, ever. I mean, you never know, maybe they would not mind, maybe they would even start to love me (especially if I would not be black black, but rather milkcoffeeblacklike with more milk then coffee). But would you want to be the only black person around in a region, where people do not hesitate to vote right wing and have flyers hanging on lampposts during voting times, that read "Foreigners, get out!"? Naw, I don't think so!
Frankly, I wouldn't even like to be the only black person in a region where everybody votes left wing and is over eager to show how close he feels to you BECAUSE you are black.
"If you are telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don't complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don't even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion."
When I visited Namibia a few years ago and walked the streets of Windhoek, ocasionally I was the only white person in view. That was a weird feeling, even without anybody looking at me or saying something to me. Nobody ever gave me a weird feeling there. It was simply me, feeling weird on the inside, over the awareness of being the only white person on the entire f*****g street. Made me nervous, to tell you the truth.

I don't think, I am exaggerating when I say that "Americanah" might be my favourite book of 2013. Not really because of all the thoughts, it provokes me to think, but just because it is the book I most of all enjoyed reading this year.
I read two other books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, like I mentioned above Half of the Yellow Sun (which will always be another favourite of mine) and also Purple Hibiscus, which I liked o.k., it is a good book, but does not have the magic of the others yet.
Half of the Yellow Sun is about Biafra and the war and when I started to read it, I mainly did, because I was travelling to Africa and felt, I should read about this continent. I am so naive! I never thought I would be able to relate to the story on a level, say, like I can relate to a story written by Jane Smiley or Siri Hustvedt. Which already could have been a racist thought?
But I could relate! Because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of this truly great writers, who are capable of capturing the universal human experience, like Tolstoi. You can read them in China, Germany or South America, you will always understand, what the story is about. They will always, among many other things, tell stories about what is breathing within the deepest layers of YOUR personal soul, and you will recognize it, and you will be happy, that somebody tells you, who you are.

So, before I end this, I want to tell those guys from the Nobel prize comitee (1. yeah, just ask me, I will be willing to join whenever you are ready to have me) 2. keep her in mind, you might wanna give her your damn prize in ten or maybe fifteen years, she is that kind of writer! plus she is a woman and I think, I have made pretty clear in a former post, that you have to give that prize to women for the next 90 years, to get some sort of balance into this whole enterprise. O.k.? O.k.!

© Susanne Becker

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