The Radiance of Adichie’s Sun: Identity, Translocation and Dislocation in Americanah

ABUJA’S Final scene:  “At first Fred talked, as before, about music and art, his spirit knotted up with the need to impress. ‘I’d like to know what you’re like when you’re not performing, Ifemelu said.  He laughed, ‘If you go out with me, you’ll know.’ There was a silence, Ranyinudo and Zemaye looking at Ifemelu expectantly, and it amused her. ‘I’ll go out with you,’ she said. He took her to a nightclub, and when she said she was bored by the too-loud music, and the smoke, and the barely clothed bodies of strangers too close to hers, he told her sleepishly that he, too, disliked nightclubs. He had assumed that she liked them. They watched films together in her flat and then in her house in Oniru, where rich paintings hung on his wall. It surprised her that they liked the same films. His cook, an elegant man from Cotonou, made a groundnut stew that she loved. Fred played the guitar for her, and sang, his voice husky, and told her how his dream was to be a lead singer in a folksy band. He was attractive. The kind of attractiveness that grew on you. She liked him. He reached often to push his glasses up, a small push with his finger, and she thought this endearing. As they lay naked on her bed, all pleasant and all warm, she wished it were different. If only she could feel what she wanted to feel!”

It’s a sunny hot June afternoon and Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money (DWMTM) album is playing through the window of the moving black benzo. Ifemelu is suspended in a charismatically dramatized blog about some African-American she observed. Otherness and Nothingness. Beginning and ending.  All seen through the gaze of the other.  But there are some who’d rather dream than pursue the marvelous and feel the way they want to feel. There is a distance between Nsukka, where the central and centering narrator was born and Philadelphia where she arrived and was brought to the river to be baptized in blackness.

     COMING TO AMERICA: Adichie’s Hejira/Flight From Nsukka To Philly

Fleeing the study of medicine in her own country, Chimamanda Adichie came to West Philadelphia to attend Drexel University. She recalls, “I was fleeing the study of medicine in Nigeria. As is the case in many places, when you do well in school in Nigeria, you are expected to become a doctor or to pursue some other exalted science. I had been in the science track in secondary school and matriculated at the University of Nigeria to study medicine, but after a year I realized I would be a very unhappy doctor. To prevent the future inadvertent deaths of patients, I fled. Before I arrived in Philadelphia, my friend Ada, who had been in the United States for some years, found a four-bedroom apartment which I would share with three American students. Because Ada had made all the arrangements, my future roommates did not see me until I arrived at the door. I remember them opening the door and looking at me in shock. There was also some disappointment on their faces. I was not what they had expected. ‘You are wearing American clothes’ they said about the jeans I had bought in the Nsukka market. ‘Where did you learn to speak English so well?’ They were surprised that I knew who Mariah Carey was, they had assumed that I listened to what they called ‘tribal music.’ I remember looking at them and being surprised that twenty year olds knew so little about the world.. And then I realized that perhaps Things Fall Apart had played a role in this. These students, like many Americans, had read Achebe’s novel in high school, but I suspect that their teacher forgot to explain to them that it was a book set in Nigeria a hundred years ago. Later, one of my new roommates told me that I didn’t seem African. Clearly, they had expected that I would step out of the pages of Things Fall Apart.” Does Americanah in any way distort African Americans similarly to how multidimensional Africans are distorted in literature and life?

 Ngozi Begins Reading And Writing At An Early Age

Wayblackmemories. Chimamanda: “I grew up on a university campus in Eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader. And what I read were British and American children’s books. I was also an early writer. And when I began to write, at about the age of seven, I wrote stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read. I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples.. And they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria, I had never been outside Nigeria..We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather because there was no need to.”

 Success Upon Success

It doesn’t go unnoticed that Adichie boasts a long list of national and global awards and achievements. She has been listed in The New Yorker’s “20 under 40,” The New York Times “Ten Best Books of 2013” for Americanah, and The New African’s “100 Most Influential Africans.” She was also awarded the Reader’s Digest Author of the Year, PEN Beyond Margins Award, and the ever-prestigious MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

“Mantonica Wilson, my Godmother, had the power to conjure the elements…I visited her in her house filled with African idols.  She made me the gift of the protection of all of these gods of Yemanga, goddess of the sea, of Shango, god of war and companion of Ferraille, god of metal who gilded the sun every morning, always at the side of Olorun, the absolute god of creation.”    -Wilfredo Lam {Cuban Surrealist Painter}

    Depression In A Moon Lit World of Creativity

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Alexandra Wolfe, Ngozi touches upon her journey living with depression. She illuminates this at length in an interview with Chiagoze Fred Nwonwu from Olisa.tv. Her words have empowered and inspired her readers, encouraging more honest communication and transparency on topics like mental health where the discussion can remain opaque. Adichie explains, “Depression is difficult. It is difficult to experience, difficult to write about, difficult to be open about. But I wanted to do it. For myself, in a way, because It forced me to tell myself my own story, which can be helpful. But also for other possible sufferers, especially fellow Africans, because there is something very painful about knowing that you are not alone, and that what happens to you also happens to other people. Depression is something I have recognized since I was a child. It is something I have accepted. It is something I will have to find ways to manage for the rest of my life. Many creative people have depression. I wonder if I would have been attracted to storytelling if I was not also a person who suffered from depression. But I am very interested in demystifying it. Young creative people, especially on our continent have enough to deal without thinking about—as I did for so long —that something is fundamentally wrong with feeling this strange thing from time to time.”

 Adichie As A Cultural Icon

As her literary prowess in recent years has bloomed, Adichie has quickly become a pop cultural icon and an admired scholar. Many would agree that it is her apparent relatability – both through her writing and in-person – that resonates so much with the masses. Aderinola Adejare, a physician in training at Ohio State University describes succinctly what it is that gives Adichie her obvious charm: “She makes all her writers seem like someone you can have a conversation with. She makes you feel like you know her. The characters that she writes about you feel like you can relate to them in some way. This is why not just Africans like her, but also non-Africans, and people of all races like her work. Even when you think about her speeches, and why they’re so famous — even though in some of her stuff she talks about her African experiences — you still feel like on some level you can relate to what she’s talking about. Why is it that Americanah, which is about an immigrant in the U.S, why is it that it’s so widely read?… It’s because people are finding something that they love about it.”

There is no dispute that Adichie’s spotlight and sensibilities in the 21st century social media dominated world contribute to a forward-moving AFROCIPHA that is steadily creating new and recombined modes, nodes and codes. And this is exactly why it’s so essential that we continue to search for in her work and charm, a kind of storytelling and performative acting that is relatable and resonating, with a voice amplified for all.

Copyright James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015