Ambrose Ehirim/The Ambrose Ehirim Files
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Random House, 477 pages; $26.95
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie poses for a photograph after a reading of her new book 'Americanah' in Lagos April 27, 2013. Image: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
Around October 2011, on the course of my ongoing interviews series, I had called Charles "Young Dick Tiger" Nwokolo at his Hollywood business office, Tiger's Boxing Gym, for chit-chats on what had persuaded him to choose boxing as a career and why he had decided to live in Los Angeles after the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in which he was a contingent representing Nigeria alongside his teammates - Jerry "Loud-mouth" Okorodudu and Peter Konyegwachi who won a silver medal at the games.
After a couple of meets and interviews, Young Dick Tiger consulted with his fiance, Elizabeth Wilson, told her about my trips to the gym and questions I had asked during sessions of the interview. On my third stop to continue and wrap up with the interview, Wilson and Young Dick Tiger were waiting, and, upon my arrival, Wilson raised a bunch of issues after having gone through my Facebook pages, my blogs and related websites and, having taken bit of lessons regarding the pogrom and the Civil War in Nigeria, in which I have presented in a variety of ways, and her acknowledging reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel "Half of a Yellow Sun," admiring the flavor of the novel, admitting Adichie was her first African read and, sharing a resemblance of the Holocaust of her Jewish heritage, Wilson recollects knowing about the Biafran story when she was little. Adichie's "Half of a Yellow Sun," the stories of the war had been the most blood soaked event in the history of Africa; a novel by way of normal scholarship, and a work of fiction adapted from real life events - the Nigeria-Biafra war.
We talked in detail about Adichie and what had inspired the book. We talked about what had also gotten me into writing about Igbo people and Biafra which she read from my blogs, related syndicated columns, Facebook and elsewhere on the web. And, of course, we had talked about the welcome home party for the boxing team at Festival Town (FESTAC) hosted by then Minister of Sports, the late Emeka Omeruah and, Konyegwachi's future engagements. Konyegwachi had declared to pursue academics on government sponsored programs rather than going pro., like his colleagues - Young Dick Tiger and Loud-mouth Okorodudu who pursued the American dream when boxing had standards and stood out - ending any prospects of becoming one of boxing greats in an era boxing was a finest sport; when folks fought for passion of the sport with dignity and respect, and not the commercial preferences and purposes it had become.
Wilson and I, spent time digesting Adichie's Yelow Sun from her perspective and mine; mine on the grounds of personally being my tribe that was talked about and the ugly engagement involved. When "Half of a Yellow Sun" arrived the bookshelves with prospects of breakthrough in 2006, I was not wholly sure until it occurred to me the love tales were fictional characters of the Biafran conflict, which she adapted. Lecturers, their households and the goings on in campus at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was the location of the characters and shots that now has been developed into film.
Adichie's "Half of a Yellow Sun" stands out in all her stables as the biggest score in marketing and popularity, including positioning in literature which most prizes had gone to, giving her the brand name to sell any novel with her signature attached to it, whether the book was well written and made sense or not, which seems to be the case in her newest entry "Americanah."
Americanah" is not a great tale considering the expectations and the following that shot her second novel to the top. Nigerian authors - home and Diaspora - always have the pleasure to begin the enterprise of their books on the home turf where the turnouts in book launchings are huge, graced by festivities and merry-making, big volume sales and sometimes, ridiculously bankrolled when details of the book has not been known or reviewed.
Reuters photo-journalist Akintunde Akinleye, Associated Press' Sunday Alamba, host of related international press and local Nigerian journalists were handy during Adichie's book launch and signing ceremony Saturday, April 27, 2013, in Lagos. The lukewarm photogenic author sat and stood in front of the cameras posing with her new book, signing autographs along the novel and answering questions from curious readers and the press on the thoughts and writing of "Americanah." Adichie had a new hair do and fascinated about it all drawing from the book's Ifemelu character, multicolored dress and classically figured, except for the not needed heavy make-ups she was wearing obviously displaying she wasn't much comfortable with the excessiveness of the painting on her face.
Most folks who explored the United States and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere during the push factor years, the economic, social, religious and reasons of things like that to why one was compelled to relocate and the aspirations for further academic pursuits is what Adichie is now telling us in the "Americanah" saga, from around which some lost hope but kept sticking around, keeping body and soul one, for opportunities that may knock on their doors as sighs of relief in what had been a stretch, to survive, doing whatever it took out of the very worst situations to overcome their predicaments.
When you browse the book before going into details, you will get a glimpse of tales of the set up of a situation where empire and anarchy instituted by the military juntas made life miserable which leaves one with the option to seek life elsewhere in an environment only the fittest survives in a dictatorship, in a country run by tyrants and full of injustice, cruelty and sufferings with an end never in sight, and a hopeless situation continuing apace.
And while the escape eventually took place, the struggle to continue to fulfill a purpose, the need to accomplish what one had desired and the time and pain it had to take in order to reach said anticipated goal which Adichie recollects writing about her personal experiences on arrival to the shores of America and what she had earlier gone through by way of people from all walks of life she had encountered, differing significantly when stationed in her native land, and what had identified her in a multitude of races she had to deal with. The culture shock, normal of any new comer to a strange land was her first run in, but the hope and purpose it gave her was what encouraged her to hold on. In the London Guardian, Adichie writes;
I lived in Philadelphia when I first went to the US to attend university. I was fresh from Nigeria. I did not consciously think of myself as black because race was not a way of self-identification. I remember clearly when I began to think of myself as black, in a gathering of friends, in an apartment, sitting around a wooden table, listening to a joke-filled conversation about race, with my Nigerian friend and her Chinese friend and her Jewish friend and her African-American friend and her Irish-American friend. I realised that I had taken on this new, odd identity in America. It has stayed with me ever since, that scene.
It was common. But, though, some had no difficulties from the goodwill that came from either generated government welfare programs or their respective families who had adequate cash possessions.
Stories so similar and told over and over the years, Adichie goes on to tell us the uncertainties that had clouded the survival instincts and the determination to fulfill what had been ambitiously waited for before departure only to be confronted with what had been totally strange, taking culture into account, and the social aspect of the new world they had come to adopt and call home. The similarities of the long hurdle to adapt to the situations and, be normal, and being used to what goes, surviving all odds, fulfilling what had been the dream and, realizing what it had taken and the time spent to be accomplished, which had been desired through diligence, patience, commitment and, eventually, hard work in which there was no substitute, ultimately becoming the pursued ideal, is nothing new to the push factor most Nigerians encountered over the years in their quest for a better life Adichie had brought up in her new entry.
And the adventure had popped up with the zeal not to fail when caught up in crossroads in between having to make decisions on two choices as option; the consequences of having made the wrong choice which could turn out disastrous by its nature and what the future might hold; the pains after all attempts with nothing seemingly working out; the high expectations from native-land where all eyes watched for prospects of a promising future, and, what the consequences could be for a life time, if all had failed, including the expectations from a relationship elsewhere on the globe, in the United Kingdom; had not been clear and in limbo with immigration problems which surely wasn't promising until that stroke of luck unshackled what had been a barrier and an emerged breakthrough that changed everything, and fortune coming his way though not what had been planned and anticipated.
Adichie, born in Enugu in 1977, studied medicine at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, and while exploring America, becoming a theme to the framework of her ongoing stories of love and the drama that comes along with it, received the McArthur Grant for $500,000 in 2008 which enabled her to write full time and a book of short stories "The Things Around Your Neck" published after the grant which also gave her adequate time to complete her MA in Africana Studies at Yale University. Graduating from Eastern Connecticut State University in Communications and Political Science, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for "You In America" in 2002.
No question, Adichie has catapulted herself to the top, in the ranks of respected Nigerian novelists and inventing "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie" as a public intellectual on the parallel with most, and somewhere in between Flora Nwapa, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. In her apparent tribute to the latter who passed March 21, 2013 in Boston, Adichie showed appreciation and acknowledgement to the man who had driven the force and how she trooped on from a mark that is now defining her, and owing much to the man's work, and also, much to her own efforts as to how far she came even though in reviewing the man's "There Was A Country", and despite giving credits to the points made in the book as far as the story goes on the said war, she derided the publication as carelessly done with repetitions, wordiness and avoidable mistakes.
"Americanah" is unnecessarily wordy, too. The events that unfolded from the native-land in preparedness to relocate from an unstable country that was full of uncertainties was retold in many instances. The cities - New Haven, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Princeton and Trenton; the Gothic structures; the motorists while she poked around; the niteclubs; visit to her aunt Uju at the Flatlands and several other encounters with people of race, culture - and what that meant to Ifemelu, describing them the way she thought desirable for each like the cities with its distinct kind of smell except Princeton being smell free is pretty much close Adichie was telling her own story and life experiences in a typical relationship with partners attached to each other and denied access to be together in the United States by the unfortunate events of 9/11 and the restrictions on immigration.
There are no expectations of something significantly different from the "Americanah" adventure begun by Ifemelu, from the usual concept of bad regimes typical of Nigeria's dominance by military juntas and situations in that regard which compels one to seek decent life elsewhere that we haven't known or seen practically like the case of Ifemelu who had moved to the shores of the United States commencing an entirely new life with aspirations in a world totally different from where she had escaped.
Enter Obinze, Ifemelu's sweetheart originally established as first lovers from what the story tells us, back in Nigeria as students in a military regime that is not encouraging for one to keep staying in the country which had both lovers become desperate to leave the country. Obinze had problems with the restrictions imposed by the United States on the effects of 9/11 which denied him access, leaving him with an option to go elsewhere besides America. He founds himself in the United Kingdom where the going got tougher, unlike Ifemelu in the US, though tough but better overall, Obinze did what he had to do. He had cash while Ifemelu blogged successfully. Both made it back home missing each other for 15 years and unsure of how to continue and get along.
"Americanah" is a typical story told from an immigrant's perspective coupled by the encounters and revelations and the blogging of events as it unfolded in contrast to Obinze's unfavorable engagements in the United Kingdom, though eventually wealthy and all in all, in a journey that had taken 15 years to decide if both were still meant for each other remains a puzzle the author intends to unveil elsewhere, or probably bent on tales of love, distant relationship, misfortunes and both finally accomplished on different platforms and, now hard to reach decisions on whether to continue with a relationship that had been marred by circumstances beyond their control.