“Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.”
– We Should All Be Feminists
Like many people, I have a lot to thank Beyoncé for. One of those things is introducing me to one of my favorite authors.
I am not one of those people who had heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before Beyoncé included an extract of her TedxEuston talk on why we should all be feminists in her song ***Flawless so, regardless of whether or not I would have probably ended up finding her anyway, I am still glad it was through Beyoncé.
“We teach girls shame. “Close your legs. Cover yourself.” We make them feel as though by being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.”
– We Should All Be Feminists
The first thing I did was watch her full speech (which has since been published), that got me hooked. While she did not tell me anything I did not already know, my experience with feminism up until then had been a movement that was full of very loud white women who care more about not shaving their armpits and bleeding freely than anything that was going on in my life or community. Chimamanda introduced me to WoC/Black feminism, she was the one who opened the door to intersectional feminism.
From there, I ended up clicking link after link after link to watch her talks and lectures until I was certain; I loved this woman.
“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
Americanah was the first book of hers I bought, it was the first I read, and it remains my solid favorite. It is a powerful book which touches on the intricacies of race, immigration, diaspora, and blackness (what it means to be black in Africa, and what it means to be black in the States). I found this book to be both familiar and foreign at the same time. I am not Nigerian nor am I black, but I come from a country that is very similar; I am also an African who left and came back (only to leave again). Sometimes, I found it to be so familiar that there were moments whilst reading this I thought I had written it myself. I love the Nigerianisms in this book; I identified strongly with Ifemelu and her life. It is a beautifully written book that is both a love story and a lecture.
“There are people, she once wrote, who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once.”
– Purple Hibiscus
Purple Hibiscus should have come with a trigger warning. It’s a compelling coming-of-age story that heavily features oppression in different forms. The oppressive state, the oppressive father, the oppressive religion… it went on and on until I found myself having trouble breathing. The book is also about freedom, and confidence, and finding your voice. Despite the bleakness of it, there were moments where it made me laugh; it was real. It also delves into how abuse victims can, and often do, still love and admire their abusers. And it displays their growth once their oppressor is out of the picture. Adichie uses this book to explores many complex situations with simplicity, there’s a sort of no-nonsense method to the way it was written that belongs only to her.
“…my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”
– Half of a Yellow Sun
I didn’t really have a clue about Biafra before reading Half of a Yellow Sun and, to be honest, I’m still not much of an expert on the topic. Chimamanda does not write for anyone who is not Nigerian; and that’s what I love about her. She doesn’t waste her time explaining, she writes Igbo expressions without a translation; you either get it, or you don’t. Centered around a group of characters and their lives before, during, and after the Biafran war; the first half of the book is far easier to digest than the second. There was a realness to the characters (as in all of Chimamanda’s book) that made some of their actions very hard to swallow. I felt that they were almost like my friends and I was emotionally invested in their lives. I also enjoyed the dialogues between the characters regarding colonialism and the third world movement of the non-aligned states that was going on at the time. This book might be fiction, but it doesn’t make it any less of an important read.
“She had come to understand that American parenting was a juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food: a sated belly gave Americans time to worry that their child might have a rare disease that they had just read about, made them think they had the right to protect their child from disappointment and want and failure. A sated belly gave Americans the luxury of praising themselves for being good parents, as if caring for one’s child was the exception rather than the rule.”
– The Thing Around Your Neck
The Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of short stories that touch on similar topics as the rest of Chimamanda’s work.As in most of her writing, I had no trouble recognizing myself in some of her depictions. Each story reflects on various aspects of life and switches between Nigeria and the US, and uses the characters in her stories to expose both the problems in the West and in her own homeland. And each story had a plot that was compelling enough that it would be spun into a full novel but it is also easy to understand why Adichie chose to end them when she did; because it made them more poignant.
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