The Bookshelf: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


“What are you reading?”

This is one of my favorite questions to ask and to be asked. So I’m asking and I’m sharing on what I hope will be a semi-regular installment on Djibouti Jones: The Bookshelf. And who better to start with than Adichie?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is possibly most well-known for her TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story. I’ve listened to it in full twice and in pieces many more times. If you have read any of her books or plan to or if you are a writer or a reader or a human, I highly recommend it.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this last April and still think about it. I don’t read a lot of fiction but this is the kind of book that makes me wish I read more, makes me believe in the power of fiction all over again. The Nigerian-in-America aspects fascinated me, her excellent grasp and presentation of the expatriate experience was right on, and the issues she raises of race in America and race in Nigeria were powerful. Plus, its simply a good story.


“I’m also going back to Nigeria to see my man,” Ifemelu said, surprising herself. My man. How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined.

Yes! I have done this. To simplify a complicated event, because of language limitations, when I just don’t feel like giving my stories, my pearls, to strangers.

Ginika laughed, a sure throaty laugh. Ifemelu laughed too, though she did not fully understand the joke. And she had the sudden sensation of fogginess, of a milky web through which she tried to claw. Her autumn of half blindness had begun, the autumn of puzzlements, of experiences she had knowing there were slippery layers of meaning that eluded her.

How many times have I laughed and wondered why I was laughing? How many subtleties do I miss, undercurrents of conversations and events? There is still, after twelve years, a misty fog between me and Djiboutians.

…avoided giving direct instructions: they (Americans) did not say “Ask somebody upstairs” they said “You might want to ask somebody upstairs.” When you tripped and fell, chocked, when misfortune befell you, they did not say sorry. They said are you okay? When it was obvious that you were not. And when you said sorry to someone like that they replied, ‘oh, its not your fault.’

Djiboutians laugh at how Americans ask for water at restaurants: if you don’t mind could you please maybe bring me a glass of water? Please? Thank you. Thank you so much. As opposed to the Djiboutian method: Bring water.

Ifemelu would come to learn that, for Kimberly, the poor were blameless. Poverty was a gleaming thing; she could not conceive of poor people being vicious or nasty because their poverty had canonized them, and the greatest saints were the foreign poor.

See Please Don’t Say They Are Poor But Happy and When Rich Westerners Don’t Know They Are Being Rich Westerners.

Ifemelu ‘became’ black in America.

She didn’t think about her blackness until surrounded by white people. I ‘became’ white in Djibouti. I didn’t think about my whiteness until surrounded by black people. One thing she writes about is how there isn’t race in Nigeria, or in Africa. I can’t speak for Nigeria, but in Djibouti, there is most definitely race. As a minority, I am aware of race in almost every interaction. I think that is what she means – being a minority changes the perspective and experience immensely. This was really good for me to contemplate and put to words. I’m still working on understanding it, on coming to terms with what it means about my ignorance, my deep-seeded attitudes about race and privilege.

More by Chimamanda Adichie:

 Purple Hibiscus This is the book that first introduced me to Chimamanda Adichie’s work. A Somali-American friend gave it to me and I’m forever grateful. The story takes place entirely in Nigeria and is an intimate look at family relationships, faith, and private violence.


Half of a Yellow Sun This book is about a war I never even heard of but that changed an entire nation and that still affects peace, life, and politics in Nigeria. She puts a human face on suffering and reading this continues to impact the way I think about Nigeria today.

Here’s what I’m reading this week:

In the Kingdom of Ice: the grand and terrible polar voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. Fascinating history. It is hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know what was at the North Pole. A warm polar sea perhaps? An entire civilization? Rare beasts? Or lots of ice? Men gave their lives to discover what was there. (Dad, you’ll love this)

Runner’s World, July 2014 issue (I know, I’m late. That’s when they get there though so I read about cold running in the summer and hot running in the winter).  Especially enjoyed You Want Fries with that Bonk? in which the author profiles Dr. Brent Ruby’s unconventional studies. Ruby found that skin temperature has more of an effect on performance than classic fitness markers like VO2 max. In other words, keep your skin cool. Good luck with that to me in Djibouti!

The New Yorker December 22 and 29, 2014 issue which includes a short story by Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah. I struggle with appreciating the long sentences and the shifts in person in his style but these things also seem inherently Somali so reading his work feels a bit like spending time in the heads of my local friends. Kind of.

Delirium, a trilogy that my daughter Maggie is reading. Trying to keep with the teens is a challenge, I haven’t read far yet. According to her, the books get better as the series goes on.


Anyone else read Americanah? Thoughts?

What are you reading this week?

*image of Adichie via Wikimedia