Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie — Americanah Mar 10, 2017

 Americanah cover, first edition May 2013

Chimamanda Adichie says in one of her talks that she did not realise she was black until she went to America. The fact that this novel says a lot about race is primarily on account of Ifemelu's similar journey to America as part of her growing up, and Obinze's experience of England as a migrant without papers. Some of the most thoughtful writing is within the posts of Ifemelu on her blog Raceteenth or Curious Observations by a Non-American Black on the Subject of Blackness in America.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

But it was the author's goal to write an old-fashioned love story too. Ifemelu takes a shine to this cool guy, Obinze, at school and over time he completely falls for her, and she becomes the first and last love of his life. This overhang is always in the background of the novel, but in the foreground she obtains her liberation in America, all but forgets Obinze, and lives with two other men in succession. They too hold our interest. Meanwhile the reader thinks: what will happen in the end?

Pamela, Kavita, KumKum

It ends a little too fast as though the publisher had a deadline and the author had to come up with the best ending she could in the time available. In the process she forgets the cardinal rule of classic love stories: they have to end tragically, or at least unsatisfactorily.

Ankush, Shoba

There are many memorable quotes:
You can love without making love.

Race matters because of racism. And racism is absurd because it’s about how you look.

I feel like I got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black.

Ankush, Thommo, Shoba, Kavita, KumKum, Pamela, Joe


Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie — Americanah
Full Account and Record of the Reading on Mar 10, 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, nonfiction writer and short story writer

Eight of us met to read the novel by the Nigerian novelist Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, her third — selected by Saras, Kavita, and Preeti. We also welcomed back a former passionate reader, Ankush Banerjee.
Present: Kavita , Pamela, Thommo, Joe, Priya, KumKum, Shoba, Ankush
Absent: Saras (away on tour), Zakia (excused), Sunil (away on tour), Preeti, Hemjit (away to Alapuzha temple)

 Nigeria political map (click to enlarge)

The agreed date for the next reading is as follows:
Wed Apr 5, 2017Poetry reading at CYC, 5:30pm 

Chimamanda Adichie and husband Ivara Esege who is a doctor of US, UK, and Nigerian heritage practicing in the state of Maryland

Introduction to the Novel by Saras (read by Shoba)
Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, non-fiction and short story writer who, according to James Copnall of the Times Literary Supplement, seems to be attracting a whole new generation of readers to African Literature
Personal Life
Adichie, who was born in the city of Enugu, grew up the fifth of six children in an Igbo family in the university town of Nsukka. Nsukka is in Enugu State, southeast Nigeria, where the University of Nigeria is situated. While she was growing up, her father, James Nwoye Adichie, was a professor of statistics at the university, and her mother, Grace Ifeoma, was the university's first female registrar. Her family's ancestral village is in Abba in Anambra State.

Adichie studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria for the United States to study communications and political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She soon transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University to be near her sister, who had a medical practice in Coventry. She received a bachelor's degree from Eastern, with the distinction of summa cum laude in 2001.In 2003, she completed a master's degree in

creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. In 2008, she received a Master of Arts degree in African studies from Yale University.

Adichie divides her time between Nigeria, and the United States. When she is in Lagos she teaches a writing workshop annually for 20 selected students (2,000 apply). In 2016 she was conferred an honorary degree - Doctor of Humane letters, honoris causa, by Johns Hopkins University.

Her Works
Adichie published a collection of poems in 1997 (Decisions) and a play (For Love of Biafra) in 1998. She was shortlisted in 2002 for the Caine Prize] for her short story You in America.
In 2003, her story That Harmattan Morning was selected as a joint winner of the BBC Short Story Awards, and she won the O. Henry prize for The American Embassy. She also won the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award)
Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (2005)
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War. It received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.Her third book,

The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of twelve stories that explore the relationships between men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
Her third novel, Americanah (2013), the book we are reading for this month is an exploration of a young Nigerian encountering race in America, and was selected by the New York Times as one of The 10 Best Books of 2013.

In Oct 2016, she shared a 9,221 word feminist manifesto, via Facebook, in the form of a letter to her friend Ijeawele, who had just given birth to a daughter and sought Adichie’s advice on how to raise her as a feminist. The letter was widely shared, and has now been extended and adapted into the author’s latest book, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions.

She offers rich parenting wisdom through a set of tips aimed at helping mothers and fathers raise empowered children. She sheds light on an array of topics including the pressure put on girls to have presentable hair, the importance of gender-neutral toys and the rejecting of marriage and likability as necessary attributes for girls. The book also thoroughly explores the misuse of the word “feminism.”
Adichie has a 15-month old daughter by Ivara Esege, a doctor who works at the University of Maryland, and is of British, American, and Nigerian parentage.

“We have to name something in order to fix it, which is why I insist on the word feminist or feminism.” Adichie says. “Many of my friends who are not white will say, ‘I’m an intersectional feminist,’ or ‘I’m a womanist.’ And I have trouble with that word, because it has undertones of femininity as this mystical goddess-mother thing, which makes me uncomfortable. So we need a word. And my hope is we use ‘feminism’ often enough that it starts to lose all the stigma and becomes this inclusive, diverse thing,” she tells The Guardian.)

The Danger of a Single Story - TED talk

Adichie spoke in a TED talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story posted in October 2009. In it, she expresses her concern for underrepresentation of various cultures.She explains that as a young child, she had often read American and British stories, where the characters were primarily caucasian.
At the lecture, she said that the underrepresentation of cultural differences may be dangerous: "Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature."
Throughout the lecture, she used personal anecdotes to illustrate the importance of sharing different stories. She briefly discussed their houseboy, Fide, and how she only knew of how poor their family was. When Adichie's family visited Fide's village, Fide's mother showed them a basket that Fide's brother had made. Adichie said, "It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them."She also said that when leaving Nigeria to go to Drexel University, she encountered the effects of the underrepresentation of her own culture. Her American roommate was surprised that Adichie was fluent in English and that she did not listen to tribal music. She said of this, "My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals."
She concluded the lecture by noting the significance of different stories in various cultures and the representation that they deserve. She advocated for a greater understanding of stories because people are complex, saying that by only understanding a single story, one misinterprets people, their backgrounds, and their histories.


Awards
She has won many awards some of which were mentioned earlier like the Caine Prize for African writing , The Commonwealth Short story Competition, BBC Measuring Prize, the O Henry Prize but the major ones are: the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Purple Hibiscus, Commonwealth Writers Prize for Half a Yellow Sun, and the Orange Prize (now called Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction) again for Americanah

Jollof rice gets plenty of mention in this novel, as a favourite food of Nigerians in particular (of West Africans in general), and you can look up the link for a recipe consisting of rice, tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, salt, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cumin and chili peppers.

Jollof rice

Priya noted that race too gets a lot of mention, particularly when the setting moves to America. Joe added that hair, and food are two other obsessions of the author; add to that love, because she says she was trying to write ‘an old-fashioned love-story’, whatever that means. The novel which we read last December, Brideshead Revisited, gets an honourable mention in this book: ‘Brideshead is the closest I’ve read to a perfect novel,’ says Emenike.

Joe alluded to a Lunch with FT feature on Chimamanda Adichie (searching with Google and clicking on the link will open the page, normally behind a paywall), in which reporters of the Financial Times of London meet interesting people every week at a restaurant and write about them – Vikram Seth, Gloria Steinem, Jack Welch, Henry Kissinger, Michael Palin, the list goes on. It took place in Lagos and the Africa editor had flown down from London to meet her and learned (Dec 2016) she had had a baby recently. The editor had Joloff rice and goat curry, while she had ugu greens and boiled yam and Edikang Ikong soup with chicken. She remarks that Chinua Achebe wrote approvingly of her previous novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, a story about the Biafran war. His comment was "We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers" – hearing which, she burst into tears.

Exercises for the Diligent Reader 
1. ‘there was nothing to shake’ — what’s this about?
2. Whose complexion is compared to the deep brown of cocoa and who is she compared to?
3. Who is given a Chavitti Uzhichil in the novel by whom? 
4. Fill in the blanks for two words from a song: Your love dey make my heart do —  —. 
5. What is the label used for Barack Obama in this novel and why? 
6. What does doing something serious mean, in the context of this novel? 

Answers:
1. Obinze would tease Ifemelu that she had a small bottom when she danced in her underwear, wiggling her hips. She replied: “I was going to say shake it, but there’s nothing to shake.”

2. Obinze’s mother is compared to Nigerian singer Onyeka Onwenu.
3. Obinze is given a back massage by Ifemelu standing on his back and balancing.
4. Yori Yori, name of song by Brackett.
5. Magic Negro. Obama is called that because he is the “black man who is eternally wise and kind. He never reacts under great suffering, never gets angry, is never threatening. He always forgives all kinds of racist shit.”
6. Having sex, Obinze’s mother’s term for it.


1. Kavita

Obinze sends Ifemelu a message informing her of his mother's death. She sends a sympathetic reply: I am crying as I write this. Do you know how often I wished that she was my mother? But that was the end. She did not reply to his further messages, even when he says: I have felt, with every major event that has occurred in my life, that you were the only person who would understand.
She continues with her American life, a period in which she becomes independent, and explores living with other men who attracted her: Blaine and Curt. Obinze was pushed to the periphery, he inhabited a far different universe for the young woman so thrilled about having the freedom to pursue her attractions in America. She had already been freed of sexual inhibitions in Nigeria, her own place where people knew her and no one expected a wife to be a virgin; in the relative anonymity of a foreign country the freedom to do as she pleased was magnified.
Nevertheless, Thommo considered it strange she did not respond to Obinze for whom she was the first and only love. KumKum asked the converse question: if she was in his mind all the time, how come he went and married Kosi? This question has an obvious answer. What should a man do if the love of his life makes herself unavailable?
Kavita said fidelity is not very important in marriage in the settings described in the novel. Joe's answer to KumKum's question was that Ifemelu was having the American experience, while Obinze was settling down. Thommo said, ‘As the only other guy in the room I disagree.’ Perhaps he could expand in a comment to this post. KumKum was adamant that in marriage you have to be faithful.
Joe said a professor he knew once corrected the terminology for a young couple who said they were living together before marrying, ‘So, you are living in sin?’
Joe said he was speaking sociologically, not from any moral point of view. This is what Ifemelu did. You need not approve or disapprove, as a reader, but the behaviour must seem of the time and the place and understandable; at the same time if the character is being projected as a heroine the author would fail if she did not provide enough other material to make you think you would like to meet and know such a person. What John Ciardi, the poet, has called the ‘sympathetic contract’ in another context, can't be broken in this case between the reader and the character, if the novel is to be successful.

2. KumKum

Obinze is married to Kosi but he takes up with Ifemelu, when she got in touch with him after returning to Nigeria. In this scene Obinze visits her at home and cooks a simple spaghetti dish. He confesses to marrying Kosi, a good woman, at a time when he felt vulnerable. Then there's an exchange when she taunts him about his going back home after this and climbing into bed with his wife. He tries to make her understand, that regardless he feels a great responsibility for his wife, Kosi. There is a sort of falling out and a making up and then they lie in bed later each sheds tears, perhaps for what could have been but was not.
KumKum took up in defence of Kosi: ‘what did she do? She was beautiful and faithful.’ Thommo chimed in that all the women were beautiful. KumKum seemed to blame Obinze: why did he marry? Obinze answered that — because he had been through a lot and was feeling vulnerable. True he had been in love with Ifemelu all his life. And remember in that society, unless he married Kosi the child of the marriage, Buchi, would not inherit. That was the case with Aunt Uju and the General whose mistress she was. When the General was overthrown, the relatives told her to take the only movable property, the big diesel generator set and decamp with it as her inheritance.
Priya at that point made a connection with the Hindi film Dear Zindagi where there is a flipping of relationships and the heroine goes from one chap to another when her childhood sweetheart takes up with someone else. She can't settle down. Shah Rukh Khan who is the counsellor compares flitting from one relationship to another as the act of buying a comfortable chair for one self, and he justifies this as trying to relax in a chair to test its goodness. Similarly you have to live with somebody for a while to know if they are compatible as a partner, maybe you even need to have sex before you know. Thommo seized on the word ‘chair’ and mentioned the film named Kissa Kursi Ka, which people will remember was confiscated during the Emergency (1975-1977).
Joe said Obinze having returned to Nigeria, thinks of appointing Nigel the young Englishman who treated him fairly at work to be the white face of a company he was setting up. Thommo considered Obinze a good guy, but KumKum insisted Kosi is to be pitied. Her defence of Kosi was unrelenting throughout the reading. Thommo thought the ardour misplaced since Kosi is a relatively minor character in the novel.
Kavita raised the rhetorical question: where was the love in marriage during our parents' generation? Priya who gets many cues for emotional life from films, referred to the film Fiddler on the Roof in which the father asks his wife at the end of a long life: Did you love me? And she gestures with her hands: all this I did was love (keeping house, making the bed, etc). For the curious here is the actual dialogue from IMDB:
Tevye: [in song] Do you love me?
Golde: [speaking] I'm your wife!
Tevye: [speaking] I know!
[in song]
Tevye: But do you love me?
Golde: [singing] Do I love him? For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his...
Tevye: Shh!
Golde: [singing] If that's not love, what is?
Tevye: [singing] Then you love me!
Golde: I suppose I do!
Tevye: Oh.
[sings]
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.
Tevye, Golde: [singing] It doesn't change a thing, but even so... After twenty-five years, it's nice to know.

Thommo quoted a passage from Ch 2 about Kosi which shows her as compliant, a ready-to-please person — a bit airy-fairy, Thommo said:
As soon as they arrived at Chief’s party, Kosi led the way around the room, hugging men and women she barely knew, calling the older ones “ma” and “sir” with exaggerated respect, basking in the attention her face drew but flattening her personality so that her beauty did not threaten. She praised a woman’s hair, another’s dress, a man’s tie. She said “We thank God” often. When one woman asked her, in an accusing tone, “What cream do you use on your face? How can one person have this kind of perfect skin?” Kosi laughed graciously

KumKum maintained that Obinze was infatuated, first to last, with Ifemelu. Thommo countered that when she returned to Nigeria, it was she who initiated the first kiss. Then KumKum made a remark, approximately thus: Kosi is a social butterfly, Ifemelu is a sexual fly, which provoked some laughter!  And then there was a mention of the tse-tse fly which causes sleeping sickness. Nigerian women seem to be strong types for the son-in-law's boss is a Nigerian woman, was a comment overheard.

3. Joe
How Ifemelu makes the acquaintance of Blaine in a train is an object lesson in rapid-fire flirtation. Starting from a casual encounter in a train with a stranger, within minutes
She began to imagine a relationship, both of them waking up in the winter, cuddling in the stark whiteness of the morning light, drinking English Breakfast tea

Soon she is exchanging notes with the Yale professor about the ‘semiotic dialectics of intertextual modernity’ and such other academese. If there is one thing that stands out in the passage (which is confirmed throughout the novel) it is Ifemelu as the proactive person in any relationship, the one who initiates and the one who discontinues. She is the archetype of the modern, free, independent woman, and America has had a liberating effect on her: no longer does she entertain the delusion that marriage is a worthy goal for women, or that women should become dependent on men doing everything for them.
Priya noted that the novel is primarily about race, but hair provides the identity. The blog Ifemelu writes called Raceteenth or Curious Observations by a Non-American Black on the Subject of Blackness in America, is the vehicle of her commentary on race and being black. The most telling post is the one in Ch 36 titled ‘Friendly Tips for the American Non-Black: How to React to an American Black Talking About Blackness.’ A pithy quote of Ifemelu is this
Race matters because of racism. And racism is absurd because it’s about how you look.

Kavita on the subject of hair narrated the story of a family in which a Panjabi lady married a Tanzanian man, and the child had the same colour and texture of skin as the mother, but it had kinky hair. Joe added that kinkiness derives from the fundamental geometry of the hair as it grows; Asian hair is round in cross-section, African hair is oval.


As this was said, in walked Ankush Banerjee, old time reader at KRG who had been MIA with the Navy for a year. He's back on base and has published a collection of poems, An Essence of Eternity, which the Sahitya Akademi will release in April 2017.


4. Priya

In this passage Ifemelu becomes attracted to Barack Obama after reading his memoir Dreams from My Father, which Blaine had left lying around. They discover a shared passion for Obama and wanted him to be elected President. She is horrified to encounter racial slurs against Obama as candidate on the Internet. Ifemelu uses her blog to advocate the policy positions of Obama and she also discovers a secret admiration for the wife, Michelle Obama.
In the recent Indian context of BJP's overwhelming victory in UP (312 seats out of 403), Priya compared Mr Modi to Obama and said many Muslims voted for Mr Modi. Perhaps, but the BJP for all its talk of inclusion, did not find a single Muslim to stand as candidate for an assembly seat in 403 constituencies. Is there something to be corrected in the BJP's image that is apparently un-welcoming toward non-Hindus? UP, after all, has lots of Muslim dominant constituencies. Election Commission data show the BJP won 31 of the 42 seats where Muslims comprised a third of the electorate.
Concerning the absence of Muslim candidates in its fold the senior BJP leader, Mr Venkaiah Naidu, said “It was a weakness, not a mistake. We could not find suitable candidates confident of winning; whom the party thought could win.” Perhaps the correction for the weakness is already in the works, for Mr Naidu said in the same interview: “If [a Muslim] MLA is not there, an MLC [member of legislative council] will be there … there will be Muslim representatives in the government.”
Thommo averred that many of us wanted Mr Modi to come in because Congress was such a failure. But Thommo added that Mr Modi has to shed the baggage of those intolerant saffron folk around the BJP who give vent every now and then to highly discriminatory remarks tending to divide India. Mr Modi does not need to pander to them.
Priya defended the BJP by citing the Jan Dhan Yojana mission for national inclusion so that financial services of banking, savings, credit, insurance, etc may be afforded to all.

5. Thommo
Obinze is now in England and working with another man's identity to try and save money for his education. It is a great come-down from his middle-class upbringing in Nigeria as the son of university professors. But he lumps it and gets down to work and in his second job as warehouse cleaner meets some friendly people, workers and bosses. Their small talk is often about women and imaginary exploits with women in their ‘knickers’, a word that holds a funny association for Obinze: in Nigeria it is applied to schoolboy shorts, not to women's panties. Obinze imagines women cavorting in schoolboy shorts. Thommo had just as much fun imagining grown paunchy RSS men marching with sticks in their brown khaki shorts! Everybody laughed with him. The RSS has taken note of this country-wide ridicule and decided to change their uniform to dark brown trousers; but they'll still wield bamboo sticks.


6. Pamela
The long passage is a discussion that takes place in UK, but considers the issues of race, class and immigrants in UK and USA, drawing fine distinctions. The mention of Chinese cockle pickers situates the passage in 2004 when 21 Chinese illegal migrants were drowned by the tide picking cockles off the Cumbrian coast, the so-called Morecambe Bay Cocking Disaster.
It's a passage of sociology mixed with chatter among friends, Obinze being one of them. The author orchestrates the conversation to make it cover a lot of ground: fox-hunting, East European migrants, the role of Mexico for America, whether African doctors should stay in their own under-served countries, American insularity, etc.
Kavita said of Ifemelu that she wanted to cut herself off from Nigeria and experience America as a new country. People have remarked that Ifemelu is freighted with a lot of Chimamanda Adichie's own experiences.
Ankush read the book partially earlier but left it unfinished and so did not want to read a passage.
Ankush added that he could not respect Ifemelu enough because she left Obinze. Do we need to ‘respect’ a character's decision in a novel to appreciate how the author develops her character, and does not leave her unchanged from beginning to end as the adolescent adorer of the cool guy at school? Conversely, should one stipulate that Obinze should be faithful to Kosi and never leave her, once married, simply because that is one's personal moral judgement? Novelists write about real life, not ideal life; and real life is messy.


7. Shoba
Shoba hadn't prepared a passage but KumKum asked her to read one of the three she had chosen, about Obinze in England acquiring a new identity and becoming ‘Vincent’ for a percentage of his earnings to the real Vincent. The deal with Vincent Obi comes at the end of some bargaining, and it seems that 35% of Obinze's earnings had to be surrendered, whereas 45% was the original offer. In the end Obinze is turned over to the authorities as a fraud, for not paying the 45% demanded by Vincent Obi. This was unexpected; Obinze cops a huge loss in all the money put up to secure a sham marriage to a East European, Cleotilde. He is packed off to Nigeria, deported — but as happens often in life, one path being dammed opens up a new and more advantageous path.


8. Hemjit
Hemjit could not make it to the reading because a temple visit to Alapuzha detained him. However he must have prepared a passage to read and his comments in a subsequent e-mail pointed to a passage in Ch 5. The passage concerns Obinze's mother taking note of the affection that had developed between her son and Ifemelu. She offers advice, treating them as almost adults. Here is Hemjit's commentary:
On starting to read the book I found Adichie’s language strange. As I read on I found it takes time to get used to her language especially the syntax and sentence structure. By the time I synched with her language the novel was over.
But later when selecting the pages that I would read for the session on March 10th (which unfortunately I could not attend) I found the pages more friendly and effortless to read. It is then I discovered that in order to really appreciate the book I would have to read the book again. But there are so many books to read and so little time.
I am sure all would agree that Ifemelu’s decision to cut off contact with Obinze after her encounter with the massage man (as distinguished from masseur), was totally immature and it arose from the false preconceived notion that a woman becomes impure in the eyes of the man she loves if she has a liaison with another man.
There are many beautiful sentences in the novel that I wish to highlight. On page 72 (of the paperback) when Obinze’s mother finds out that Ifemelu and her son were making love during the short time when she went out to purchase her allergy medicine she calls Ifemelu aside and advises her
You can love without making love.

On pages 352 to 354 Ifemelu is with Blaine, and completely bowled over by Obama after reading his book Dreams from my Father. Earlier she was all for Mrs. Hillary Clinton whom she describes as a woman trying to conceal her prettiness to look more capable. Later her admiration rivets to Michelle Obama who represented herself as she was, by wearing her belt higher on her waist than tradition would allow. It was this that drew Ifemelu to Michelle – the absence of apology, the promise of honesty. If Michelle had married Obama than he couldn't be all bad – she jokes with Blaine, but meaning every word she said.
The importance of braiding the hair for Africans reminded me of my hostel days in Madras (Chennai) when I had Nigerian, Kenyan and Tanzanian friends. I remember the wooden combs they used to comb their stiff Afro hair. It resembled a spike with a handle.


Readings


1. Kavita
Ifemelu commiserates the death of Obinze's mother but does not reply to his subsequent messages.
Ifemelu’s reply came an hour later, a rush of heartbroken words. I am crying as I write this. Do you know how often I wished that she was my mother? She was the only adult— except for Aunty Uju—who treated me like a person with an opinion that mattered. You were so fortunate to be raised by her. She was everything I wanted to be. I am so sorry, Ceiling. I can imagine how ripped apart you must have felt and still sometimes feel. I am in Massachusetts with Aunty Uju and Dike and I am going through something right now that gives me a sense of that kind of pain, but only a small sense. Please give me a number so I can call —if it’s okay.
Her e-mail made him happy. Seeing his mother through her eyes made him happy. And it emboldened him. He wondered what pain she was referring to and hoped that it was the breakup with the black American, although he did not want the relationship to have mattered so much to her that the breakup would throw her into a kind of mourning. He tried to imagine how changed she would be now, how Americanized, especially after being in a relationship with an American. There was a manic optimism that he noticed in many of the people who had moved back from America in the past few years, a head-bobbing, ever-smiling, over-enthusiastic kind of manic optimism that bored him, because it was like a cartoon, without texture or depth. He hoped she had not become like that. He could not imagine that she would have. She had asked for his number. She could not feel so strongly about his mother if she did not still have feelings for him. So he wrote her again, giving her all of his phone numbers, his three cell phones, his office phone, and his home landline. He ended his e-mail with these words: It’s strange how I have felt, with every major event that has occurred in my life, that you were the only person who would understand. He felt giddy, but after he clicked Send, regrets assailed him. It had been too much too soon. He should not have written something so heavy. He checked his BlackBerry obsessively, day after day, and by the tenth day he realized she would not write back.
He composed a few e-mails apologizing to her, but he did not send them because it felt awkward apologizing for something he could not name. He never consciously decided to write her the long, detailed e-mails that followed. His claim, that he had missed her at every major event in his life, was grandiose, he knew, but it was not entirely false. Of course there were stretches of time when he had not actively thought about her, when he was submerged in his early excitement with Kosi, in his new child, in a new contract, but she had never been absent. He had held her always clasped in the palm of his mind. Even through her silence, and his confused bitterness.


2. KumKum
Obinze cooks spaghetti, Ifem and he lie in bed together after a good cry. Ch 53 p.325 (508 words)
He laughed. “I miss cooking. I can’t cook at home.” And, in that instant, his wife became a dark spectral presence in the room. It was palpable and menacing in a way it had never been when he said, “I can’t come on Sunday until mid-afternoon,” or “I have to leave early today.” She turned away from him, and flipped open her laptop to check on the blog. A furnace had lit itself deep inside her. He sensed it, too, the sudden import of his words, because he came and stood beside her.
Kosi never liked the idea of my cooking. She has really basic, mainstream ideas of what a wife should be and she thought my wanting to cook was an indictment of her, which I found silly. So I stopped, just to have peace. I make omelets but that’s it and we both pretend as if my onugbu soup isn’t better than hers. There’s a lot of pretending in my marriage, Ifem.” He paused. “I married her when I was feeling vulnerable; I had a lot of upheaval in my life at the time.”
She said, her back turned to him, “Obinze, please just cook the spaghetti.”
I feel a great responsibility for Kosi and that is all I feel. And I want you to know that.” He gently turned her around to face him, holding her shoulders, and he looked as if there were other things he wanted to say, but expected her to help him say them, and for this she felt the flare of a new resentment. She turned back to her laptop, choked with the urge to destroy, to slash and burn.
I’m having dinner with Tunde Razaq tomorrow,” she said.
Why?”
Because I want to.” “You said the other day that you wouldn’t.”
What happens when you go home and climb into bed with your wife? What happens?” she asked, and felt herself wanting to cry. Something had cracked and spoiled between them.
I think you should go,” she said.
No.”
Obinze, please just go.” He refused to leave, and later she felt grateful that he had not left. He cooked spaghetti and she pushed it around her plate, her throat parched, her appetite gone.
I’m never going to ask you for anything. I’m a grown woman and I knew your situation when I got into this,” she said.
Please don’t say that,” he said. “It scares me. It makes me feel dispensable.”
It’s not about you.”
I know. I know it’s the only way you can feel a little dignity in this.”
She looked at him and even his reasonableness began to irritate her.
I love you, Ifem. We love each other,” he said.
There were tears in his eyes. She began to cry, too, a helpless crying, and they held each other. Later, they lay in bed together, and the air was so still and noiseless that the gurgling sound from his stomach seemed loud.


3. Joe
Ifemelu meets Blaine on the train Ch 17 p.132-135 (1023 words)
She placed her bag on the overhead rack and settled onto the seat, stiffly, holding her magazine, her body aligned towards the aisle and away from him. The train had begun to move when he said, “I’m really sorry I didn’t see you standing there.”
His apologizing surprised her, his expression so earnest and sincere that it seemed as though he had done something more offensive. “It’s okay,” she said, and smiled.
How are you?” he asked.
She had learned to say “Good-how-are-you?” in that singsong American way, but now she said, “I’m well, thank you.”
My name’s Blaine,” he said, and extended his hand. He looked tall. A man with skin the color of gingerbread and the kind of lean, proportioned body that was perfect for a uniform, any uniform. She knew right away that he was African-American, not Caribbean, not African, not a child of immigrants from either place. She had not always been able to tell.
...
I’m Ifemelu, it’s nice to meet you,” she said.
Are you Nigerian?”
I am, yes.” “Bourgie Nigerian,” he said, and smiled. There was a surprising and immediate intimacy to his teasing her, calling her privileged.
Just as bourgie as you,” she said. They were on firm flirting territory now. She looked him over quietly, his light-colored khakis and navy shirt, the kind of outfit that was selected with the right amount of thought; a man who looked at himself in the mirror but did not look for too long. He knew about Nigerians, he told her, he was an assistant professor at Yale, and although his interest was mostly in southern Africa, how could he not know about Nigerians when they were everywhere?
What is it, one in every five Africans is Nigerian?” he asked, still smiling. There was something both ironic and gentle about him. It was as if he believed that they shared a series of intrinsic jokes that did not need to be verbalized.
Yes, we Nigerians get around. We have to. There are too many of us and not enough space,” she said, and it struck her how close to each other they were, separated only by the single armrest. He spoke the kind of American English that she had just given up, the kind that made race pollsters on the telephone assume that you were white and educated.
So is southern Africa your discipline?” she asked.
No. Comparative politics. You can’t do just Africa in political science graduate programs in this country. You can compare Africa to Poland or Israel but focusing on Africa itself? They don’t let you do that.”
His use of “they” suggested an “us,” which would be the both of them. His nails were clean. He was not wearing a wedding band. She began to imagine a relationship, both of them waking up in the winter, cuddling in the stark whiteness of the morning light, drinking English Breakfast tea;
....
Then, she reached forward and pushed the magazine into the pouch in front of her and said, with a slight sniff, that it was absurd how women’s magazines forced images of small-boned, small-breasted white women on the rest of the multi-boned, multi-ethnic world of women to emulate.
But I keep reading them,” she said. “It’s like smoking, it’s bad for you but you do it anyway.”
Multi-boned and multi-ethnic,” he said, amused, his eyes warm with unabashed interest; it charmed her that he was not the kind of man who, when he was interested in a woman, cultivated a certain cool, pretended indifference.
Are you a grad student?” he asked. “I’m a junior at Wellson.”
Did she imagine it or did his face fall, in disappointment, in surprise? “Really? You seem more mature.”
I am. I’d done some college in Nigeria before I left to come here.”
She shifted on her seat, determined to get back on firm flirting ground. “You, on the other hand, look too young to be a professor. Your students must be confused about who the professor is.”
I think they’re probably confused about a lot of stuff. This is my second year of teaching.” He paused. “Are you thinking of graduate school?” “Yes, but I’m worried I will leave grad school and no longer be able to speak English. I know this woman in grad school, a friend of a friend, and just listening to her talk is scary. The semiotic dialectics of intertextual modernity. Which makes no sense at all. Sometimes I feel that they live in a parallel universe of academia speaking academese instead of English and they don’t really know what’s happening in the real world.”
That’s a pretty strong opinion.”
I don’t know how to have any other kind.” He laughed, and it pleased her to have made him laugh.
But I hear you,” he said. “My research interests include social movements, the political economy of dictatorships, American voting rights and representation, race and ethnicity in politics, and campaign finance. That’s my classic spiel. Much of which is bullshit anyway. I teach my classes and I wonder if any of it matters to the kids.”
...
So do you ever come up to Connecticut?”
Not much. I’ve never been to New Haven. But I’ve gone to the malls in Stamford and Clinton.”
Oh, yes, malls.” His lips turned down slightly at the sides.
You don’t like malls?”
Apart from being soulless and bland? They’re perfectly fine.”
She had never understood the quarrel with malls, with the notion of finding exactly the same shops in all of them; she found malls quite comforting in their sameness. And with his carefully chosen clothes, surely he had to shop somewhere?
So do you grow your own cotton and make your own clothes?” she asked. He laughed, and she laughed too. She imagined both of them, hand in hand, going to the mall in Stamford, she teasing him, reminding him of this conversation on the day they met, and raising her face to kiss him.


4. Priya
Blaine introduces Ifemelu to Obama's biography and thinking of him as President.
At first, even though she wished America would elect a black man as president, she thought it impossible, and she could not imagine Obama as president of the United States; he seemed too slight, too skinny, a man who would be blown away by the wind. Hillary Clinton was sturdier. Ifemelu liked to watch Clinton on television, in her square trouser suits, her face a mask of resolve, her prettiness disguised, because that was the only way to convince the world that she was able. Ifemelu liked her. She wished her victory, willed good fortune her way, until the morning she picked up Barack Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father, which Blaine had just finished and left lying on the bookshelf, some of its pages folded in. She examined the photographs on the cover, the young Kenyan woman staring befuddled at the camera, arms enclosing her son, and the young American man, jaunty of manner, holding his daughter to his chest. Ifemelu would later remember the moment she decided to read the book. Just to see. She might not have read it if Blaine had recommended it, because she more and more avoided the books he liked. But he had not recommended it, he had merely left it on the shelf, next to a pile of other books he had finished but meant to go back to. She read Dreams from My Father in a day and a half, sitting up on the couch, Nina Simone playing on Blaine’s iPod speaker. She was absorbed and moved by the man she met in those pages, an inquiring and intelligent man, a kind man, a man so utterly, helplessly, winningly humane. He reminded her of Obinze’s expression for people he liked. Obi ocha. A clean heart. She believed Barack Obama. When Blaine came home, she sat at the dining table, watching him chop fresh basil in the kitchen, and said, “If only the man who wrote this book could be the president of America.”
Blaine’s knife stopped moving. He looked up, eyes lit, as though he had not dared hope she would believe the same thing that he believed, and she felt between them the first pulse of a shared passion. They clutched each other in front of the television when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. The first battle, and he had won. Their hope was radiating, exploding into possibility: Obama could actually win this thing. And then, as though choreographed, they began to worry. They worried that something would derail him, crash his fast-moving train. Every morning, Ifemelu woke up and checked to make sure that Obama was still alive. That no scandal had emerged, no story dug up from his past. She would turn on her computer, her breath still, her heart frantic in her chest, and then, reassured that he was alive, she would read the latest news about him, quickly and greedily, seeking information and reassurance, multiple windows minimized at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes, in chat rooms, she wilted as she read the posts about Obama, and she would get up and move away from her computer, as though the laptop itself were the enemy, and stand by the window to hide her tears even from herself. How can a monkey be president? Somebody do us a favor and put a bullet in this guy. Send him back to the African jungle. A black man will never be in the white house, dude, it’s called the white house for a reason. She tried to imagine the people who wrote those posts, under monikers like SuburbanMom231 and NormanRockwellRocks, sitting at their desks, a cup of coffee beside them, and their children about to come home on the school bus in a glow of innocence. The chat rooms made her blog feel inconsequential, a comedy of manners, a mild satire about a world that was anything but mild. She did not blog about the vileness that seemed to have multiplied each morning she logged on, more chat rooms springing up, more vitriol flourishing, because to do so would be to spread the words of people who abhorred not the man that Barack Obama was, but the idea of him as president. She blogged, instead, about his policy positions, in a recurring post titled “This Is Why Obama Will Do It Better,” often adding links to his website, and she blogged, too, about Michelle Obama. She gloried in the offbeat dryness of Michelle Obama’s humor, the confidence in her long-limbed carriage, and then she mourned when Michelle Obama was clamped, flattened, made to sound tepidly wholesome in interviews. Still, there was, in Michelle Obama’s overly arched eyebrows and in her belt worn higher on her waist than tradition would care for, a glint of her old self. It was this that drew Ifemelu, the absence of apology, the promise of honesty.


5. Thommo
Obinze as Vincent (‘Vinny Boy’) works as warehouse cleaner in England.
Obinze-as-Vincent informed his agency, after his experience with the curled shit on the toilet lid, that he would not be returning to that job. He scoured the newspaper job pages, made calls, and hoped, until the agency offered him another job, cleaning wide passages in a detergent-packing warehouse. A Brazilian man, sallow and dark-haired, cleaned the building next to his. “I’m Vincent,” Obinze said, when they met in the back room.
I’m Dee.” A pause. “No, you’re not English. You can pronounce it. My real name is Duerdinhito, but the English, they cannot pronounce, so they call me Dee.”
Duerdinhito,” Obinze repeated.
Yes!” A delighted smile. A small bond of foreignness. They talked, while emptying their vacuum cleaners, about the 1996 Olympics, Obinze gloating about Nigeria beating Brazil and then Argentina.
Kanu was good, I give him that,” Duerdinhito said. “But Nigeria had luck.”
Every evening, Obinze was covered in white chemical dust. Gritty things lodged in his ears. He tried not to breathe too deeply as he cleaned, wary of dangers floating in the air, until his manager told him he was being fired because of a downsizing. The next job was a temporary replacement with a company that delivered kitchens, week after week of sitting beside white drivers who called him “laborer,” of endless construction sites full of noises and helmets, of carrying wood planks up long stairs, unaided and unsung. In the silence with which they drove, and the tone with which they said “laborer!” Obinze sensed the drivers’ dislike. Once, when he tripped and landed on his knee, a fall so heavy that he limped back to the truck, the driver told the others at the warehouse, “His knee is bad because he’s a knee-grow!” They laughed. Their hostility rankled, but only slightly; what mattered to him was that he earned four pounds an hour, more with overtime, and when he was sent to a new delivery warehouse in West Thurrock, he worried that he might not have opportunities for overtime.
The new warehouse chief looked like the Englishman archetype Obinze carried in his mind, tall and spare, sandy-haired and blue-eyed. But he was a smiling man, and in Obinze’s imagination, Englishmen were not smiling men. His name was Roy Snell. He vigorously shook Obinze’s hand.
So, Vincent, you’re from Africa?” he asked, as he took Obinze around the warehouse, the size of a football field, much bigger than the last one, and alive with trucks being loaded, flattened cardboard boxes being folded into a deep pit, men talking.
Yes. I was born in Birmingham and went back to Nigeria when I was six.” It was the story he and Iloba had agreed was most convincing.
Why did you come back? How bad are things in Nigeria?”
I just wanted to see if I could have a better life here.”
Roy Snell nodded. He seemed like a person for whom the word “jolly” would always be apt. “You’ll work with Nigel today, he’s our youngest,” he said, gesturing towards a man with a pale doughy body, spiky dark hair, and an almost cherubic face. “I think you’ll like working here, Vinny Boy!” It had taken him five minutes to go from Vincent to Vinny Boy and, in the following months, when they played table tennis during lunch break, Roy would tell the men, “I’ve got to beat Vinny Boy for once!” And they would titter and repeat “Vinny Boy.”
It amused Obinze, how keenly the men flipped through their newspapers every morning, stopping at the photo of the big-breasted woman, examining it as though it were an article of great interest, and were any different from the photo on that same page the previous day, the previous week. Their conversations, as they waited for their trucks to be loaded up, were always about cars and football and, most of all, women, each man telling stories that sounded too apocryphal and too similar to a story told the day before, the week before, and each time they mentioned knickers—the bird flashed her knickers—Obinze was even more amused, because knickers were, in Nigerian English, shorts rather than underwear, and he imagined these nubile women in ill-fitting khaki shorts, the kind he had worn as a junior student in secondary school.


6. Pamela
Race, class, immigrants in America and UK. Ch 25
And the great revelation Emenike had while we were there?” Georgina said, smiling. “The difference between the American and British ‘bye.’ ”
Bye?” Alexa asked.
Yes. He says the Brits draw it out much more, while Americans make it short.”
That was a great revelation. It explained everything about the difference between both countries,” Emenike said, knowing that they would laugh, and they did. “I was also thinking about the difference in approaching foreignness. Americans will smile at you and be extremely friendly but if your name is not Cory or Chad, they make no effort at saying it properly. The Brits will be surly and will be suspicious if you’re too friendly but they will treat foreign names as though they are actually valid names.”
That’s interesting,” Hannah said.
Georgina said, “It’s a bit tiresome to talk about America being insular, not that we help that much, since if something major happens in America, it is the headline in Britain; something major happens here, it is on the back page in America, if at all. But I do think the most troubling thing was the garishness of the nationalism, don’t you think so, darling?” Georgina turned to Emenike.
Absolutely,” Emenike said. “Oh, and we went to a rodeo. Hugo thought we might fancy a bit of culture.”
There was a general, tittering laughter.
And we saw this quite unbelievable parade of little children with heavily made-up faces and then there was a lot of flag-waving and a lot of ‘God Bless America.’ I was terrified that it was the sort of place where you did not know what might happen to you if you suddenly said, ‘I don’t like America.’ ”
I found America quite jingoistic, too, when I did my fellowship training there,” Mark said.
Mark is a pediatric surgeon,” Georgina said to Obinze.
One got the sense that people—progressive people, that is, because American conservatives come from an entirely different planet, even to this Tory—felt that they could very well criticize their country but they didn’t like it at all when you did,” Mark said.
Where were you?” Emenike asked, as if he knew America’s smallest corners.
Philadelphia. A specialty hospital called the Children’s Hospital. It was quite a remarkable place and the training was very good. It might have taken me two years in England to see the rare cases that I had in a month there.”
But you didn’t stay,” Alexa said, almost triumphantly.
I hadn’t planned on staying.” Mark’s face never quite dissolved into any expression.
Speaking of which, I’ve just got involved with this fantastic charity that’s trying to stop the UK from hiring so many African health workers,” Alexa said. “There are simply no doctors and nurses left on that continent. It’s an absolute tragedy! African doctors should stay in Africa.”
Why shouldn’t they want to practice where there is regular electricity and regular pay?” Mark asked, his tone flat. Obinze sensed that he did not like Alexa at all. “I’m from Grimsby and I certainly don’t want to work in a district hospital there.”
But it isn’t quite the same thing, is it? We’re speaking of some of the world’s poorest people. The doctors have a responsibility as Africans,” Alexa said. “Life isn’t fair, really. If they have the privilege of that medical degree then it comes with a responsibility to help their people.”
I see. I don’t suppose any of us should have that responsibility for the blighted towns in the north of England?” Mark said.
Alexa’s face reddened. In the sudden tense silence, the air wrinkling between them all, Georgina got up and said, “Everyone ready for my roast lamb?”
They all praised the meat, which Obinze wished had stayed a little longer in the oven; he carefully cut around his slice, eating the sides that had grayed from cooking and leaving on his plate the bits stained with pinkish blood. Hannah led the conversation, as though to smooth the air, her voice calming, bringing up subjects they would all agree on, changing to something else if she sensed a looming disagreement. Their conversation was symphonic, voices flowing into one another, in agreement: how atrocious to treat those Chinese cockle pickers like that, how absurd, the idea of fees for higher education, how preposterous that fox-hunting supporters had stormed Parliament. They laughed when Obinze said, “I don’t understand why fox hunting is such a big issue in this country. Aren’t there more important things?”
What could possibly be more important?” Mark asked drily.
Well, it’s the only way we know how to flght our class warfare,” Alexa said. “The landed gentry and the aristocrats hunt, you see, and we liberal middle classes fume about it. We want to take their silly little toys away.”
We certainly do,” Phillip said. “It’s monstrous.”
Did you read about Blunkett saying he doesn’t know how many immigrants there are in the country?” Alexa asked, and Obinze immediately tensed, his chest tightening. “
Immigrant,’ of course, is code for Muslim,” Mark said.
If he really wanted to know, he would go to all the construction sites in this country and do a head count,” Phillip said.
It was quite interesting to see how this plays out in America,” Georgina said. “They’re kicking up a fuss about immigration as well. Although, of course, America has always been kinder to immigrants than Europe.”
Well, yes, but that is because countries in Europe were based on exclusion and not, as in America, on inclusion,” Mark said.
But it’s also a different psychology, isn’t it?” Hannah said. “European countries are surrounded by countries that are similar to one another, while America has Mexico, which is really a developing country, and so it creates a different psychology about immigration and borders.”
But we don’t have immigrants from Denmark. We have immigrants from Eastern Europe, which is our Mexico,” Alexa said.
Except, of course, for race,” Georgina said. “Eastern Europeans are white. Mexicans are not.”
How did you see race in America, by the way, Emenike?” Alexa asked. “It’s an iniquitously racist country, isn’t it?”
He doesn’t have to go to America for that, Alexa,” Georgina said.
It seemed to me that in America blacks and whites work together but don’t play together, and here blacks and whites play together but don’t work together,” Emenike said.
The others nodded thoughtfully, as though he had said something profound, but Mark said, “I’m not sure I quite understand that.”
I think class in this country is in the air that people breathe. Everyone knows their place. Even the people who are angry about class have somehow accepted their place,” Obinze said. “A white boy and a black girl who grow up in the same working-class town in this country can get together and race will be secondary, but in America, even if the white boy and black girl grow up in the same neighborhood, race would be primary.”
Alexa gave him another surprised look.
A bit simplified but yes, that’s sort of what I meant,” Emenike said, slowly, leaning back on his chair, and Obinze sensed a rebuke. He should have been quiet; this, after all, was Emenike’s stage.
But you haven’t really had to deal with any racism here, have you, Emenike?” Alexa asked, and her tone implied that she already knew the answer to the question was no. “Of course people are prejudiced, but aren’t we all prejudiced?”
Well, no,” Georgina said firmly. “You should tell the story of the cabbie, darling.”
Oh, that story,” Emenike said, as he got up to serve the cheese plate, murmuring something in Hannah’s ear that made her smile and touch his arm. How thrilled he was, to live in Georgina’s world.
Do tell,” Hannah said.
And so Emenike did. He told the story of the taxi that he had hailed one night, on Upper Street; from afar the cab light was on but as the cab approached him, the light went off, and he assumed the driver was not on duty. After the cab passed him by, he looked back idly and saw that the cab light was back on and that, a little way up the street, it stopped for two white women.
Emenike had told Obinze this story before and he was struck now by how differently Emenike told it. He did not mention the rage he had felt standing on that street and looking at the cab. He was shaking, he had told Obinze, his hands trembling for a long time, a little frightened by his own feelings. But now, sipping the last of his red wine, flowers floating in front of him, he spoke in a tone cleansed of anger, thick only with a kind of superior amusement, while Georgina interjected to clarify: Can you believe that?
Alexa, flush with red wine, her eyes red below her scarlet hair, changed the subject. “Blunkett must be sensible and make sure this country remains a refuge. People who have survived frightful wars must absolutely be allowed in!” She turned to Obinze. “Don’t you agree?”
Yes,” he said, and felt alienation run through him like a shiver.
Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.


7. Shoba
Obinze acquires a new identity and becomes ‘Vincent’ for a percentage of his earnings.
Obinze got his phone number from Nicholas and called him.
The Zed! Kinsman! You did not tell me you were coming to London!” Iloba said. “How is your mother? What of your uncle, the one who married from Abagana? How is Nicholas?” Iloba sounded full of a simple happiness. There were people who were born with an inability to be tangled up in dark emotions, in complications, and Iloba was one of them. For such people, Obinze felt both admiration and boredom. When Obinze asked if Iloba might be able to help him find a National Insurance number, he would have understood a little resentment, a little churlishness—after all, he was contacting Iloba only because he needed something—but it surprised him how sincerely eager to help Iloba was.
I would let you use mine but I am working with it and it is risky,” Iloba said.
Where do you work?”
In central London. Security. It’s not easy, this country is not easy, but we are managing. I like the night shifts because it gives me time to read for my course. I’m doing a master’s in management at Birkbeck College.” Iloba paused. “The Zed, don’t worry, we will put our heads together. Let me ask around and let you know.”
Iloba called back two weeks later to say he had found somebody. “His name is Vincent Obi. He is from Abia State. A friend of mine did the connection. He wants to meet you tomorrow evening.”
They met in Iloba’s flat. A claustrophobic feel pervaded the flat, the concrete neighborhood with no trees, the scarred walls of the building. Everything seemed too small, too tight.
Nice place, Loba Jay You,” Obinze said, not because the flat was nice but because Iloba had a flat in London.
I would have told you to come and stay with me, The Zed, but I live with two of my cousins.” Iloba placed bottles of beer and a small plate of fried chin-chin on the table. It seared a sharp homesickness in Obinze, this ritual of hospitality. He was reminded of going back to the village with his mother at Christmas, aunties offering him plates of chin-chin.
Vincent Obi was a small round man submerged in a large pair of jeans and an ungainly coat. As Obinze shook hands with him, they sized each other up. In the set of Vincent’s shoulders, in the abrasiveness of his demeanor, Obinze sensed that Vincent had learned very early on, as a matter of necessity, to solve his own problems. Obinze imagined his Nigerian life: a community secondary school full of barefoot children, a polytechnic paid for with help from a number of uncles, a family of many children and a crowd of dependents in his hometown who, whenever he visited, would expect large loaves of bread and pocket money carefully distributed to each of them. Obinze saw himself through Vincent’s eyes: a university staff child who grew up eating butter and now needed his help. At first Vincent affected a British accent, saying “innit” too many times.
This is business, innit, but I’m helping you. You can use my NI number and pay me forty percent of what you make,” Vincent said. “It’s business, innit. If I don’t get what we agree on, I will report you.”
My brother,” Obinze said. “That’s a little too much. You know my situation. I don’t have anything. Please try and come down.”
Thirty-five percent is the best I can do. This is business.” He had lost his accent and now spoke Nigerian English. “Let me tell you, there are many people in your situation.” Iloba spoke up in Igbo. “Vincent, my brother here is trying to save money and do his papers. Thirty-five is too much, o rika, biko. Please just try and help us.”
You know that some people take half. Yes, he is in a situation but all of us are in a situation. I am helping him but this is business.” Vincent’s Igbo had a rural accent. He put the National Insurance card on the table and was already writing his bank account number on a piece of paper. Iloba’s cell phone began to ring. That evening, as dusk fell, the sky muting to a pale violet, Obinze became Vincent.


8. Hemjit
Obinze's mother asks if Ifemelu has done anything serious with Obinze Ch 5 p.56-57 (593 words)
As soon as her car engine started, a dull revving, Ifemelu and Obinze hurried to his bedroom and sank onto his bed, kissing and touching, their clothing rolled up, shifted aside, pulled halfway. Their skin warm against each other. They left the door and the window louvers open, both of them alert to the sound of his mother’s car. In a sluice of seconds, they were dressed, back in the living room, Play pressed on the video recorder.
Obinze’s mother walked in and glanced at the TV. “You were watching this scene when I left,” she said quietly. A frozen silence fell, even from the film. Then the singsong cries of a beans hawker floated in through the window.
Ifemelunamma, please come,” his mother said, turning to go inside.
Obinze got up, but Ifemelu stopped him. “No, she called me.”
His mother asked her to come inside her bedroom, asked her to sit on the bed. “
If anything happens between you and Obinze, you are both responsible. But Nature is unfair to women. An act is done by two people, but if there are any consequences, one person carries it alone. Do you understand me?”
Yes.” Ifemelu kept her eyes averted from Obinze’s mother, firmly fixed on the blackand- white linoleum on the floor.
Have you done anything serious with Obinze?”
No.” “I was once young. I know what it is like to love while young. I want to advise you. I am aware that, in the end, you will do what you want. My advice is that you wait. You can love without making love. It is a beautiful way of showing your feelings but it brings responsibility, great responsibility, and there is no rush. I will advise you to wait until you are at least in the university, wait until you own yourself a little more. Do you understand?”
Yes,” Ifemelu said. She did not know what “own yourself a little more” meant.
I know you are a clever girl. Women are more sensible than men, and you will have to be the sensible one. Convince him. Both of you should agree to wait so that there is no pressure.”
Obinze’s mother paused and Ifemelu wondered if she had finished. The silence rang in her head.
Thank you, ma,” Ifemelu said. “And when you want to start, I want you to come and see me. I want to know that you are being responsible.”
Ifemelu nodded. She was sitting on Obinze’s mother’s bed, in the woman’s bedroom, nodding and agreeing to tell her when she started having sex with her son. Yet she felt the absence of shame. Perhaps it was Obinze’s mother’s tone, the evenness of it, the normalness of it.
Thank you, ma,” Ifemelu said again, now looking at Obinze’s mother’s face, which was open, no different from what it usually was. “I will.”
She went back to the living room. Obinze seemed nervous, perched on the edge of the center table. “I’m so sorry. I’m going to talk to her about this when you leave. If she wants to talk to anybody, it should be me.”
She said I should never come here again. That I am misleading her son.”
Obinze blinked. “What?”
Ifemelu laughed. Later, when she told him what his mother had said, he shook his head. “We have to tell her when we start? What kind of rubbish is that? Does she want to buy condoms for us? What is wrong with that woman?”
But who told you we are ever going to start anything?”

3 comments:

Hemjit Bharathan said...

Thanks Joe. Though i couldnt attend I felt I was almost there.

The agreed date for the next reading is as follows:
Wed Apr 5, 2017 – The Sellout by Paul Beatty (selected by Sunil & Zakia)

With reference to the above two lines I copied and pasted from this blog - Is not the coming session on April 5th a Poetry Reading Session?

Priya said...

Joe- The reference to a Panjabi woman marrying an Ethiopian and their issue having kinky hair was not told by me. I think it was Kavita??

In "Dear Zindagi", Shah Rukh Khan who is the counsellor compares flitting from one relationship to another as the act of buying a comfortable chair for one self, and he justifies this as trying to relax in a chair and thus testing its goodness. Thommo took that cue and referred to Kissa kursi Ka.

The BJP diid not field any Minority, in this case Muslim candidtae because they don't want token representation as all parties hitherto have been doing and inculcated exactly this sense of entitlement. A candidate should be chosen on merit, on winnability factor, and not on ostensibly appearing to be fair an dust and right when exactly the opposite is done.
Not even a single minority candidate was found suitable. This argument from educated rational Indians is disappointing.


Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Thanks, Priya for the comment, enabling me to make modifications to the text, to bring it closer to what was said and take into account your reasoning about BJP & the UP elections. Grateful.
- joe