Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah.
They were living together anyway, and he was not unhappy, and he imagined that she would, with time, gain a certain heft. She had not after four years, except physically, in a way that he thought made her look even more beautiful, fresher, with fuller hips and breasts, like a well-watered houseplant.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, 2013
I am neither African nor American, and I am not Black, and so this book, about a Nigerian boy and girl falling in love, emigrating to the USA (she, succesfully, legal) and the UK (he, unsuccesfully, illegal) and later returning to Nigeria, demanded from me some imagination and attention. After all, I've never been to either of these countries and I don't really know what it is to be discrimated. But I never made it to Narnia either, and shouldn't every good book give you the feeling that you start to know and understand new places? I think so. The book also delivers some very interesting ideas about racism in the USA, mainly in the fictional blog Raceteenth or Curious Observations by a Non-American Black on the subject of Blackness in America. It's all written with enthusiasm and talent, and with great compassion and understanding. This alone makes the book for me a must-read because it lets us understand these things better. There is however also a second layer to it, maybe even more important in the eyes of the author and many readers, because it is also the story of a Great Love, between two teenagers, Ifemelu (the girl) and Obinze (the boy), who after a long separation and grave misunderstandings meet each other again.
It is a very well written book, and I loved it, but I must admit, and this is purely personal, it left me also behind with a bitter feeling. I felt the greatest pity for the victims of this Great Love, the try-outs in between, the unlucky ones who had the poor judgment to fall in love with one of them, believing they had found the love of their lives, only to find out that they would allways come second and that sooner or later they would be dumped, for a lack of completeness and fulfillment they could never deliver. I admire the idea of a Great Romantic Love, but if you are one of its unlucky victims this Love ruins your life when you realise that you can never replace the Real One. A long, long time ago I found myself in this situation and it makes you angry, hurt, soiled and very sad. It is a very personal and deep feeling of rejection, being refused not because of what you are but because of who you are not. You are good to make love with but not good enough to love. You haven't done anything wrong, you don't understand but there is a finality in the other one's decision that leaves you defenseless and naked. I still carry the marks.
But as I said, a great novel, beautifully written, and I advise everyone to read it. I learned a lot about racism and about being black in America and in Nigeria, and how this is not the same. I looked into the soul of the girl that left me a long time ago and commiserated with her victims (most of them end up happy by the way, like me, but still remain scarred). A very good book, a fascinating read and bubbly with life in a quite special way.
I read it in Canada, mainly in National Parks in the evenings, in the company of the loves of my live, and one evening in the company of a bottle of Alive, a wonderful organic white wine by the Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Okanagan. This wine is honest, fruity, interesting and a pure joy to drink and it fitted the book extremely well.