I spent the better part of this week reading this book and I am impressed by what I found hidden in these 350 pages. The sameness of African culture in aspects like respect for elders, reverence for origin and tradition, the familiar mannerisms and expressions, the conviction towards blind faith, the need for belonging. There is safety and comfort that comes with identifying with people with whom you share history.
I see, in a new light the similarity in the anxieties young people face in starting out, having to create their own lives away from their parents shadows. The luck in overnight success or the appreciation of the hustle, the serendipity in both sides of this coin leading to the same inner circle at the private club and mechanical conversations at dinner parties and social events.
Exploring the complexities of growing up in a tumultuous economy, having to make due with limited resources, unrealistic societal demands, conditioned fears and beliefs , family and relational dynamics, all not new to me, this book held the key to much needed acceptance and awakened a sense of pride in being African, and being raised African.
Following Ifemelu’s arrival in America and her initial struggles to get on her feet, I am still impressed at how tenacious she was in going from penniless to being a key note speaker in acknowledged fora. Lessons on boldness and self-censorship do not get lost on me as she un-apologetically tackled a very sensitive topic with skill and knowledge. It was admirable how she unearthed the most vital issues regarding race and privilege.
While we are raised to conform, to do, to ask as few questions and produce excellent results, the traits of being strong headed and fearless came alive as I delved deeper into the story. Why conform when you can add true meaning to your actions? Conformity only seeks to keep the wheel moving. Generation after generation, we turn into our parents, and watch with scorn as our children threaten to break the wheel. We watch as our daughters endure horrendous saloon appointments to straighten their hair, with relaxers laden with unkind chemicals so to look acceptable because the first 7 seconds of interaction make a lasting impression and God forbid you face an interview panel with that monstrosity on your head.
The American dream. The London dream. The Lagos dream. With the common belief that the greener pastures lie far away from home, the experiences of Obinze and Aisha demonstrate that the grass does get greener wherever it is watered. Young people going to unorthodox lengths to earn a living in a foreign country, devising more illegal ways to stay in countries in which they are not welcome, so as to make something of themselves. Something grand and reputable, only to later go back to their homes wondering why they ever left in the first place.
The rich. The poor. The upper middle class and the lower middle class. The conformers and the rebellious. The privileged and the self-made. In the end like birds, we leave the nest and fly. We thrive. We taste the waters and make a life for ourselves worth living.
Even though I couldn’t have my dictionary too far as I savored every inch of this book, I am glad to be a beneficiary of Ifemelu’s boldness and firm belief in what is, Ginika’s adaptability, Zemaye’s objectivity, Obinze’s passion, Curtis’ generosity, and most importantly, Chimamanda’s immense wisdom and exceptional skill at word weaving and story-telling.