Friday, July 8, 2016

Read & Listen to Chimamanda Adichie

In this complicated and confusing day and age, with issues of race and identity peppering our daily lives through politics and entertainment and, yes, certainly tragedy, I can think of no more pertinent voice than that of the beautifully poetic and insightfully wise Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. I am currently wrapped up in her novel Americana, which tells a complex and intricately woven story of a Nigerian woman living in America. The book was recommended by a good friend who is also a school board member who always asks first, "So, what are you reading?" Adichie's story captivated her, and she had to share the title. Since then, my wife and my teenage son have both devoured the book, and now I am immersed in the story of Ifemelu, a young Black woman who shares the fascinateing revelation that she wasn't ever really aware of being black until she came to America. Here's an overview from a brief review from NPR:

In Americanah, a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, moves to the United States for school, leaving behind her boyfriend, Obinze, and her family. It's a story of relocation, far-flung love and life as an alien, spread across three continents. It's also about the lonely but privileged perspective a stranger gains by entering a new culture. Indeed, it's more powerful than that inAmericanah, because Ifemelu experiences America both as a black woman and as an African woman. In the U.S., those two identities combine for experiences dark and light that Adichie skillfully renders in gray scale.

Adichie's perspective on race and culture is valuable for the third-party view that it offers. But more than that, her stories are simply rich and engaging narratives of humanity. Her voice and vision are so rich in the depth she brings to so many characters who flit in and out of Ifemelu's life. I can't really describe how much her language affects me, but I hope many people read her works and share her impact. I first learned of Adichie several years ago when a colleague introduced us to her powerful and engaging TED Talk about the "Danger of the Single Story." The insight about identity and the problematic way that we view diversity is so important in contemporary society. Reminiscient of Harper Lee's lessons from Atticus about "walking around in someone else's skin," the single story idea must come to be understood by those who live aloof to the narrowness of their worlds.

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