Tag Archives: culture

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307455925
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I did not know what took me this long to reread this book. I remember reading it in 2013, when it was published and I promised a friend that I would get back to it soon – reread it that is. I reread it this month, after three years and was stunned yet again, just as I was when I first read it.

How do you describe a flawless novel such as “Americanah”? How do you review it? How do you describe your feelings to people as you read it, with a hunger and also knowing that you must starve yourself for it, should it get over too soon? While this book is about race at the heart and core of it, it is also a lot more than just that. May be this will be a good start to letting you know more about the book. I for one was riveted. My mind is still reeling from the characters, their lives, their perceptions, opinions, views and how it feels when you are almost an alien in another country.

“Americanah” is fodder for the mind, heart and soul. It may sound cliché when I say this, but that’s what it was for me. It is the story of two Nigerians, each trying to find their place in the world – from school to college to working in countries that they have experienced only in movies, comics, books or TV shows. There is certain neatness to the writing – it is neither convoluted, nor simple at the same time. It deals with issues; it feels personal at the same time and an all-encompassing read.

“Americanah” – the title is a Nigerian word used to describe someone who has lived abroad for so long, maybe particularly in America that they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They speak American and eat that cuisine. They are alien to their people once they are back and somehow that is the case with Adichie’s characters as well.

Ifemelu – a bright and sharp observant girl, lives her life in Nigeria, goes to America and is in for a rude shock – where race, hair and the way she is plays a major role than she thought it would. The story of Ifemelu is about her trying to fit in and then realizing that America was never for her. She sees America through her journey and life in Nigeria and is constantly on the lookout for more. Her relationships in America are not as fulfilling as they were back home with Obinze (her former boyfriend). He was the love of Ifemelu’s life before America seeped into her bones and flesh. We see love being central to the story and yet it is so distant for the two of them – things change drastically in the course of this book.

Adichie makes her characters like you and I. There is so much of everyday reality that it is heartwarmingly overwhelming. The legacy of slavery and black people and non-black people issues are at the core of this fantastic book. We see how Obinze’s life carries out in London which is very different from that of Ifem’s in America. The common thread is that of feeling like an outsider – like you will never belong.

The secondary characters in the book are not just props – they do, say and add so much gravitas to the entire narrative. From Ifem’s boyfriends and friends to Obinze’s mom and then the reaction of friends and family when Ifem is back from America – to a Nigeria that is very different from what it was when she left it a long time ago.

Ifemelu is more than just an interesting character. To me she embodied a lot of issues, confusion, heartache and more. Obinze on the other hand has so much to say and just doesn’t. Adichie has him restrained to some extent. The blog by Ifemelu on racism called “Raceteenth” and the posts in the book are insightful and brilliantly written. Maybe at some point, being a minority group, we all go through the same kind of racism (or do we?) and that’s why I could relate more to it being a gay man.

“Americanah” is a read not to be missed out on. At any cost.

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Random House USA
ISBN: 9780375714832
Genre: Graphic Novel, Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 341
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I always thought graphic novels were an easy read. At least, in my experience they always have been. Till I reread “The Complete Persepolis” and realized that it could get tough, rereading a graphic novel as well. “Persepolis” is a story which has so many layers to it.

“The Complete Persepolis” is the combination of two books – The story of a Childhood and the story of a Return. The story is of Marjane Satrapi (the author), growing up in war-torn Iran, from the Shah’s regime to the Ayatollah’s Iran, and finally living her life in Austria, till she returns home – only to see that things have only become worse.

The title of the book is taken from ancient Persia’s capital. “Persepolis” is autobiographical and hits the spot very hard. While it speaks of cultures and war and fundamentalism to a very large extent, it also draws on the concepts of alienation and the need to be home. I think this reread was in many ways most important for me, as I am away from home, so the connect was very strong. Perhaps not the same, given that I have not seen wars. But, nonetheless, one can empathize with Marjane and her family and her mental and emotional state.

The book doesn’t seek validation. Neither does it seek sympathy or empathy. It is just an honest account of life and how it goes through various stages and how sometimes in times of adversity, there is only humour and hope to live by. Marjane characterizes herself as an outsider, throughout the book. As a young girl, when her parents are revolting against the system to when she is an adult living in a different land, and when she is back in Iran to when she leaves for France for good.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is depicted truthfully through the black and white illustrations. My heart went out when people were executed for no fault and to think that people lived through all of that is something which you and I cannot even begin to imagine. The illustrations are stark and true, without any fluff or sugar-coating. “Persepolis” is a gem of a graphic novel – the kind that you do not forget at all and also the kind that you keep going back to time after time. Also, do watch the movie if you have not already. It is simply super.

Here is the trailer:

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The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan Title: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 9789351362593
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A lot has been written on the migrant experience. It has been written from various points of view. Sometimes, it is a man’s voice and sometimes it is a woman’s voice, journey and careening their way through an unknown land. I have also managed to read quite a few books on the topic. So when I picked up, “The Americans” by Chitra Viraraghavan, I was apprehensive. However, one hundred pages into the book and I could not stop reading it.

“The Americans” is about different people and how their stories merge together, at a point in the United States of America. This is what I loved about the book – the entire concept of six degrees of separation and how it was rolled in beautifully in the narrative.

There is an old man trying to find his way in a new land, on a vacation albeit. There is Tara, a single woman who visits America to look after her niece, as her sister is struggling with other issues. There are eight other stories that merge with these two and to me that was the highlight of the book. I am also somehow fond of books with short chapters and this one was written in that manner, which made me cry: Hurrah!

Viraraghavan has an acute sense of surrounding and nature to her writing. The book is set in 2005 and one can see that she knows America inside-out as she of course studied there and that has definitely helped in the research of the book.

The writing is lucid and heart-warming in most places. For me, what worked the most were the journal entries (or so they seemed) of books read by a teenager and her view of the American life. “The Americans” is a thought-provoking book on what it means to cross borders – physically and emotionally and sometimes what it takes to perhaps not cross them.

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Book Review: Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal

Land of the Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal Title: Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography
Author: Sanjeev Sanyal
Publisher: Viking India, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670086399
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is not easy to write a book which is solely based on geography or for that matter history. What is most difficult is when the two get combined in a book. More so when the country in question is India, with its diversity and centuries of culture and history, which can still be seen in most places, if only you would look at it closely enough. I have always been intrigued by our country’s cultural subtext and how we came to be as a nation. The thought would be there and I wanted to read more on it, till something else caught my attention and this thought would then be on the back burner. Till I heard of “Land of the Seven Rivers” by Sanjeev Sanyal and decided to give it a shot.

There is a danger when you want to read a non-fiction title. The danger of boredom that is. It is very easy to lose interest in a book based on facts and numbers. However, this did not happen while I was reading this book, maybe also because I took my time with this one. I had to let the history and geography of our land sink in and that helped me savour the book – page by page. “Land of the Seven Rivers” by Sanjeev Sanyal is a fantastic attempt to talk to us simply about our heritage (well so to say) and of the times gone by.

The book uncovers thousands of years of history and also manages to link it to the dramatic and quite sudden changes taking place in the country. He speaks of the architectural design of the country and how with the many rulers, the landscape changed and with some of that, our culture and history as well. I love the parts when Sanyal tries to uncover questions we may not even think of, for instance, why is India named Bharat? What happened to the Saraswati River? He speaks of the Great Flood and ties it back in with the structure of the country. What I liked is that he doesn’t trace kingdoms, instead he traces civilization during those kingdoms – he speaks of lives and then connects it all to the geographical nature of the country.

My favourite parts in the book have to be how he explains the archaeological sites and how they came to be. The maps only add to the beauty of language and wit as displayed and they are needed to guide the reader at every turn of the page. I can only say that as a student I loathed history and as an adult I am loving it even more and I am only thankful to books like these that have opened my mind and world to what once was. I would recommend it very strongly if you want to know the roots of our nation.

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Book Review: Beyond Human Nature: How Culture & Experience Shape Our Lives by Jesse J. Prinz

Beyond Human Nature by Jesse J. Prinz Title: Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives
Author: Jesse J. Prinz
Publisher: Allen Lane
ISBN: 978-0713998177
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Why do people from one culture think and see things differently from another? Why do they almost feel and also emote differently in some situations? There are so many instances when people from a different race or culture act and think differently and yet while most of us question the differences, there are times when thoughts regarding those do not cross our mind. The differences also stem from the nurture or the nature angle, which there have long gone been debates about in our world.

The book that I have finished reading off-late also talks of the way we view our world and how and why do we do what we do. “Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives” by Jesse J. Prinz completely left me astounded by the end of the read. It gave me more perspective to the human condition and what impact do places and upbringing and what surrounds us have on our way of thinking and behaviour.

Prinz asks if the idea of human nature has any place in the sciences and the book tries to unearth or discover that very thought. The argumentation is strong in most places and somehow felt weak in some others, which I ignored, because the overall book appealed to me.

The book is divided into six parts and each part focuses on the idea of where do the following come from: Feelings, Values, Traits, Knowledge, Language, and Thinking. While the book is great overall, the reader cannot start reading the book from any part. The vast diversity of behaviour is explored in great depth in this book with a lot of relevant instances, which both astound and amuse. The conclusions for each argument are valid and rolled out well, also carefully tying the knots. There is no vagueness left for the reader to deal with.

There are times when I do not read non-fiction because I cannot make sense of some of it and then there are times when such a book comes along my way that makes me want to read more on these lines and the topic. There is a lot to garner and take away from this book – both individually and from a societal perspective. It is amazing how Prinz has woven the concept of nature vs. nurture so brilliantly around the premise of this book. I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about this topic and yet can keep up with the slow pace of this book.