Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Club, Three Weeks Gone

Book club met on Monday [n.b., I started this post a a full month ago; we met on Monday, September 30. This is my blogging shame.], and then I developed some sort of bottomless pit of an influenza or something[and went on vacation, etc.] and have been off the grid. 

But the book was so seriously good, I want to make sure I talk about it. So: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Bloggers who speak much more intelligently than I have already talked about how wonderful this book is; what I can add is mostly just my discussion questions.

Ifemelu is moving back to Nigeria after many years of living in America.  As she contemplates the move, she also thinks about making contact with her high school

I have some discussion questions based on notes I took (I took notes!) at book club.  Because this was one of the smartest books I've read in a long time, and my book club is, overall, smarter than I am. 

(Warning: general-ish spoilers ahead)

1) Ifemelu is often passive in her relationships.  She keeps her thoughts to herself, she follows the flow of the group she's in, and her life changes significantly as she moves in different social circles.  But the voice in her blog is clear and sure, opinionated and angrier than she ever expresses in her "real" life.  Where do you think this contrast comes from?  What do you think it says about her, or about the world around her?  And do you think that seems to be changing at the end of the book?

2) Look at some of the individuals and groups of people that Ifemu meets.  Do any of them reflect people who seem familiar to you?  (The college roommates, the nanny employer, the grad student social circle, the hairdressers.)  Do they seem realistic, nuanced, representative?  Do your assessments of the realism of characters who are more familiar to you affect your feelings about the characters who feel less familiar? 

(This is one of those questions I have an answer to: I think the parts of the book that felt less familiar to me had an immediate believability because the parts that were familiar were so well-crafted.)

3) Why do you think she had so much trouble finding a job when she first came to the states?  Was it just an unlucky streak of interviews, or do you think there was more going on?

4) What do you think about that one character's suicide attempt?  What was behind it?  How do the issues you think are behind it relate to the central themes and ideas of the book?

5) Do you think this is a love story?  I've heard people say at its heart, the book is a love story.  I'm not sure I agree; I think the idea of how you're shaped by where you're from and where you are, and how being of more than one place is not something the world does a good job of encompassing right now.  How do the different stories--love story, immigration stories, personal stories--serve each other?

6) One of the most amazing things about this book is how broadly and directly it addresses race.  As a white person, I feel like I learned a lot, was given a lot to think about and a lot of new perspectives, without feeling confused or defensive.  What ideas or observations about race stuck out most to you?  Is there anything that you learned or got a new perspective on from this book?

This is probably the objectively best book that I've enjoyed in months, maybe even all year.  It's a human story, a literary story, and I think it was the juxtaposition of the unfamiliar and the very familiar that really made it so irresistible.  This is kind of a lame compliment that says more about me than about the book, but I feel smarter for having enjoyed it.

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