Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has many thoughtful reviews by readers far more qualified than me to judge the book on its inherent merit as a social commentary by a Nigerian immigrant to America.

Adichie describes the richness and vibrance of Nigerian city culture vividly, so that even a reader like me who has never been to Lagos gets a true feel of middle- and upper-class life there. She then contrasts Lagos to the northeastern United States, where her character Ifemelu emigrates for education and stays for work.

The story is panoramic, covering many people, locations, and decades. Her Nigerian characters have depth and connection, while her American characters seem more two-dimensional; it is hard to discern their motives or feel that Ifemelu is more than an observer in their lives, even though she has friendships and lengthy relationships with black and white Americans. The narrative improves a great deal when she returns to Nigeria subtly changed and must re-integrate into her native society.

Where the book packs a punch is with its almost clinical examination of race in America by someone who Americans read as black, but who does not identify herself as anything but Nigerian until she arrives in the US. Ifemelu navigates the perplexing, infuriating, confusing, and sometimes nasty question of race in America with an intelligence and detachment that eventually crystallizes into her need to return home.

This is certainly a book worth reading to understand how the United States treats her immigrants and how our race issues look and feel to people joining us from other countries where class, not race, defines someone. You'll come away with a lot of questions and perhaps a new appreciation of how difficult it is to be an outsider here.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

1939: The Last Season of Peace: The Last Season of Peace by Angela Lambert

1939: The Last Season of Peace: The Last Season of Peace1939: The Last Season of Peace: The Last Season of Peace by Angela Lambert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having recently read Anne deCourcy's 1939: THE LAST SEASON, it was hard for me to imagine that another book with an almost identical title would have anything different to offer.

Lambert's work, however, takes advantage of its author's timeliness in finding these former debutantes back in the 1980s, when the ladies were still up and about in their late 60s, and interviews them extensively on their experiences and their lives. Where deCourcy relies on newspaper articles to interweave the history with the social narrative, Lambert gives us the ladies' own voices, and that makes the book.

They are charming, witty, self-possessed, and absolutely frank in discussing their families, friends, and doings in that summer of 1939. Some knew all about the coming war while others astonishingly were so sheltered as to know nothing whatever. To a woman, they remembered where they were when the war was announced. Unlike deCourcy, Lambert takes us a bit further than 1939 to tell us that part of their upbringing was to volunteer and to join, so that the volunteer services were very full of upper-class young women by the time the war started.

The book is packed with vignettes of that time, beautiful descriptions, conversations, and people from a time that is gone forever. An appendix lists the slang of the time so that you can competently speak with a 1939 debutante.

If you'd like to hear from some of the men and women in this book and of that summer, there is a fantastic documentary on them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISg0_...

Its charm is best summarized in the final words, quoting one of the debs speaking to her granddaughter: "You know, Sophie, I expect you're right about us. We were ignorant and selfish and spoilt; we saw nothing wrong in idleness. But I tell you this. We did our trivial things in the *most* satisfactory way!"

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