Tag: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2015

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2015. Click the titles for links to the full reviews. Check back on Thursday for my top non-fiction picks.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

ISBN 9780316013697

Cover image for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieIt only took me eight years to get around to reading Sherman Alexie’s popular young adult novel about a Native American boy who decides to leave the Spokane reservation to attend school in a nearby town that is predominantly white. Junior hopes that the education he receives there will help him achieve his dream of becoming an artist, but he struggles to be accepted by his classmates, and also faces rejection by members of his tribe who believe he has betrayed them. Alexie uses dark humour to cope with the tragedy Junior faces in his life, and Ellen Forney’s accompanying illustrations are just as poignant as the prose, but more concise. I actually read this book twice this year, once at the insistence of a friend (thanks, Amelia!) and then again with my book club.

Categories: Young Adult 

Americanah

ISBN 9780307455925

Cover image for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieBy contrast, it only took me two years to get around to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s critically acclaimed novel about a young Nigerian couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, who are separated when Ifemelu goes to the United States for college, and Obinze is unable to get a visa to join her. With America’s borders closed to him, Obinze finds himself in living London on an expired tourist visa, and working as an undocumented immigrant under other peoples’ names. Fifteen years later, Ifemelu decides to return home to Nigeria, though she is unsure if she wants to see Obinze, who is now married. Americanah is a big, sweeping novel that combines cultural criticism with the story of star-crossed lovers. During her time in America, Ifemelu explores the differences between the experiences of a Black African woman, and those of African Americans, and is forced to confront American beauty standards, particularly as they concern hair. When she finally returns home, she must face the fact that she has been changed by America, and that Nigeria has changed in her absence.

Carry On

ISBN 9781250049551

Cover image for Carry On by Rainbow RowellWhen it comes to books I read this year that were just pure fun, Carry On is at the top of the list. Spinning off from her 2013 novel, Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell brings to life the world of Simon Snow, formerly only a story-within-a-story in Fangirl. Simon is the Chosen One, supposedly destined to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, but as he enters his final year at Watford School of Magicks, he is more concerned about the fact that his roommate–the devious vampire Baz–hasn’t turned up for classes, and is probably out there somewhere plotting to kill him. Carry On features a playful magical system built on the power language gains through puns, word play, literary references, and other usages tap into our common imagination. Rowell also riffs on familiar themes and tropes from Chosen One stories, and generally has a rollicking good time.

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult 

Everything I Never Told You

ISBN 9780143127550

Cover image for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NgThis heartbreaking novel of family tragedy by Celeste Ng topped a lot of last year’s best fiction lists, and for good reason as I finally discovered. When sixteen-year-old Lydia’s body is found in the lake of a small Ohio college town in the spring of 1977, the rug is pulled out from under the Lee family. James and Marilyn’s mixed race marriage is a delicate balancing act, and their children Nath and Hannah struggle with being among the only non-white residents of their small town.  Each member of the family takes a turn narrating, and each understands something about Lydia that the others have missed, but alone none of them can quite understand how she could have died.  As Celeste Ng peels back the layers one at a time, her novel becomes an autopsy of a family in the aftermath of the death of one of its members.

Manners and Mutiny

ISBN 9780316190282

Cover image for Manners and Mutiny by Gail CarrigerAlthough I’ve singled out Manners and Mutiny here, honestly this is a tip of the hat to Gail Carriger’s entire “Finishing School” series, of which Manners and Mutiny is the fourth and final volume. I devoured the first three volumes as audiobooks, delightfully narrated by Moira Quirk, whose accents and voices bring Carriger’s witty banner to life. However, I read Manners and Mutiny in dead-tree form, and can confirm that the books themselves are just as much fun. Sophronia Temminnick’s mother deplores her daughter’s adventuresome behaviour, and decides to send her off to finishing school to become more ladylike. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Temminnick, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is no ordinary finishing school; in addition to learning etiquette and charm, Sophronia also receives a first class education in espionage aboard a wandering dirigible. At the school, Sophronia makes friends and enemies, and becomes versed in the supernatural politics of a Victorian England populated by werewolves and vampires as well as mechanical servants. In Manners and Mutiny, Sophronia is called on to foil a Pickleman plot to take over the nation’s mechanicals. She must also make a choice between Soap and Felix, two very different boys who have been vying for her affections.

Categories: Young Adult, Steampunk

 

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads this year?

Q3 Challenge Report 2015

The year is flying by, and I am already a few weeks late posting this update on my 2015 challenges! Soon the year will be over and I’ll be pondering my reading goals for 2016. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

2015 Goodreads Challenge

2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge LogoBack in January, I thought it would be a great idea to slow down and focus on what I was reading this year, rather than how much. However, at this point in the year, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my reading sets its own pace, and that barring some disaster, I am going to read more than 116 books this year. In fact, I hit the 100 books mark just as Q3 ended, which is 86% of my goal with only 75% of the year done. However, I don’t feel like this has prevented me from doing justice to my primary reading goal.

Diversify 2015

At the end of last year, there were lots of counts and statistics going around about diversity in publishing, from folks like We Need Diverse Books and Diversity in YA. Naturally, this made me want to crunch my own numbers, and I found that only about 10% of the books I read in 2014 were by authors who were also visible minorities. Knowing that I’m the kind of person who only manages what she measures, I decided to track my reading in 2015 with an eye to ensuring that at least 25% of the books would be by authors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, since this is the area where I felt I was most lacking. I set aside other possible metrics, such as LGBT, disability, etc. in order to make the challenge more manageable, but I hope to revisit this another time.

Of the 29 books I read in Q3, 15 were by diverse authors, which comes out to about 52%. This number has been steadily increasing, from 35% in Q1, to 39% in Q2. Since I don’t tally my numbers until the end of the quarter, I’m always worried that I’m falling behind. I’ve also increased my collection of diverse books, so I now have a lot more options on hand when I reach for my next read. In Q2, I realized that since I don’t review every book I read or listen to, it would be important to ensure that I was writing about diverse books I was reading, and helping to boost their visibility out in the world. With this in mind, 14 of the 23 books I reviewed in Q3 were by diverse authors, totaling 61%, which is well above the 46% and 45% of the previous two quarters.

Cover image for Redefining Realness by Janet MockAs 2015 goes on, I’ve noticed that I’ve been skewing fairly strongly towards works of fiction, so I made sure to pick up a few non-fiction titles for the challenge, including Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Usually I make an effort to ensure I’m reading equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction, but this year I’ve been paying more attention to the authors than the categories their works fall into. It’s hard to regret all the fiction when I’ve read stunners like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or Laline Paull’s fresh take on dystopia, The Bees. Still, if you have any non-fiction works to suggest, please let me know!

Year-to-date, 41 of the 100 books I’ve read qualified for the challenge, well above my targeted 25%. Of the 71 books I have reviewed, 36 were by diverse authors, which comes out to about 50% of my reviews for 2015! As long as I keep working at the challenge, I’m on track to finish strong. In that spirit, I’m going to set a stretch goal. Rather than 25%, which is the number I chose in January, I am hoping to finish the year with 40% of my books by diverse authors.

How are your 2015 Challenges going? Are you already starting to think about what you want to do next year?

Americanah

Cover image for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

ISBN 9780307455925

“And yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, a bleakness and borderlessness. It brought with it amorphous longings, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she could be living, that over the months molded into a piercing homesickness.”

Obinze and Ifemelu fall in love in high school in Lagos, and begin university together. But as strikes and labour action make it difficult to obtain a post-secondary education in Nigeria, Ifemelu turns her sights abroad, and applies to an American university. Accepting a scholarship, she sets out for America alone, with plans for Obinze to follow soon. But shortly after arriving in America, Ifemelu abruptly cuts off contact without explanation. Unable to obtain a visa, Obinze cannot follow her. With America’s borders closed to him, Obinze finds himself in living London on an expired tourist visa, and working as an undocumented immigrant under other peoples’ names. But eventually they are both pulled back home to Nigeria, where their paths may cross again.

Americanah mimics the slow pace of day-to-day life, mixed with the ponderous quality of recollection. As Ifemelu has her hair braided in a Black hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey, she reflects on her relationship with Obinze, and her life in America on the eve of her decision to return to Nigeria after nearly fifteen years abroad. Trying to avoid an awkward conversation with her hairdresser, she makes an impulsive decision to email Obinze and tell him she is returning home. For his part, Obinze also takes a turn carrying the narrative. Having become disaffected with his newly prosperous life in Lagos, he recalls his turbulent journey to England and back, and his unsatisfactory marriage to a woman who bores him.

Ifemelu and Obinze come from comfortable middle class families, and are drawn abroad by hope, choice, and opportunity, rather than driven by despair, poverty, or hunger. But their yearnings are no less powerful though their roots are more prosaic. Arriving in America, Ifemelu becomes aware of herself as a Black woman for the first time, and finds that her identity as a Black African woman often differs sharply from the experiences of African Americans. She begins chronicling her observations on a blog that becomes unexpectedly popular. Meanwhile, Obinze finds his identity nearly erased by his need to live almost invisibly in London. While Obinze’s self-respect is degraded by his deceptions, Ifemelu is slowly worn down by pervasive American beauty standards, particularly as they pertain to Black hair, and the effort it takes to maintain her blog.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s characters are vibrant and opinionated, sometimes almost mercilessly so, as each social situation is painstakingly dissected under the cutting eye of the narrator. Ifemelu’s first interracial relationship, and her first relationship with an African-American man both provide ample opportunity for analysis and observation as she tries to integrate into their worlds. Ifemelu mines every encounter, seeking material for her blog, but the constant effort leaves her feeling as if she has “cement in her soul.” The more she writes, the more she questions herself, until she has developed a bad case of imposter syndrome.

Americanah is a sweeping cultural critique mixed with a star-crossed love story. Ifemelu’s return home promises to reunite her with Obinze, but it also provides the opportunity for Ifemelu to see Nigeria with fresh eyes, as a returnee who discovers how Lagos has changed, and how America has changed her. Where she first observed from her position as a Black African in America, she now turns her eye on Nigeria as an Americanah, seeing both its strengths and its weaknesses in a new light. Ifemelu seems unable to escape her calling as a cultural critic even as she struggles to apply her insight to her own life.

Americanah is an ambitious novel that contains many sharply observed issues which sometimes threaten to overwhelm the characters. But the fearlessness and poise with which Adichie tackles these hefty issues carries the novel through.

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