I was first introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie earlier this year when I was assigned to watch her TED talk, “The Danger of A Single Story” for one of my graduate courses. We’ve been talking about disrupting the binary ways of thinking that are so prevalent (something is good or bad, right or wrong), and this talk was an excellent way into entering that conversation. In it, she discusses what happens when we associate a group of people with one singular representation that we’ve seen, be it in a storybook, novel, or a movie: “show a people as one thing and only one thing over and over again and that is what they become…one story becomes the only story.” As a reader and an English teacher, I value the way that books give me new perspectives and help me to explore different experiences through someone else’s eyes. Something we’ve been teaching our students this year about nonfiction reading and research is that if you read one article about a topic, you barely know anything. To truly learn, you must experience multiple texts, multiple viewpoints, compare, contrast, analyze. The same is true for fiction.
Afterward I watched the video, I made the connection that she is the same woman whose novel Americanah I had seen displayed in every New York City bookstore, and the book I had chosen for the first meeting of my new book club. It is the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, a young Nigerian couple in love who make plans for the future as Ifemelu leaves Nigeria for the United States to finish college, but their plans to stay connected crumble. The reader hears from Ifemelu’s experiences in the United States as well as Obinze’s in Nigeria and London, and is left wondering if they will be able to make their paths cross once again. Inside of this love story, though, is one of race, identity, navigating space, and a novel in which Adichie challenges the reader to beyond the single story.
Ifemelu writes a blog that becomes immensely popular that studies race relations in the United States, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t raised in the culture, and therefore whose perspective is fresh and provocative for the readers. In it, we are able to hear Ngozi Adichie asking the reader to consider what s/he is reading and to sit in it, and be challenged. She gives voice to many different perspectives and approaches race in a way that feels at once challenging and refreshing, depending on the time one has spent really thinking about race, and reflecting on the degree of privilege one has experienced. (This book overlapped with so many aspects of my class, including referencing this article by Peggy McIntosh that explores white privilege, which is also worth reading and considering.)
In addition, as a friend of mine pointed out, this is a story about people constantly struggling with where they think they should be, what other people think of where they are, and their in/ability to find contentment. What is fascinating is that this struggle feels relatable and deeply human, no matter where one is situated in life.
In sum, this is a book that needs to be read and discussed. There is no way in a blog post to go into the nuance and complexity that Ngozi Adichie accomplishes, so you might as well head to your local bookstore now.