During the month of June, you will receive the first-year summer common reading — Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book will be the center of a discussion at our Opening Convocation on Wednesday, August 27.
As a way of inviting you into this conversation, we are sending some questions about the book and some of the issues it raises. The best conversations begin with questions that invite full engagement from everyone. Full participation in this conversation will require that you do a close reading of the text and that you think critically about its ideas and issues.
We encourage you to read the text and forward answers to four of the reading guide questions for an opportunity to be awarded an IPad Mini as you begin your academic career at Earlham College. Please email your responses to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs & Registrar Bonita Washington-Lacey at email@example.com by Friday, August 8.
A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York, 2013)
Americanah centers on the restless aspirations, challenges, and complicated hopes of Ifemelu and Obinze. As secondary school teenagers they fall in love in a Nigeria under military dictatorship, where people who could left the country with dreams of better life opportunities in other countries: principally America and England. Post 9-11, Ifemelu winds up in America to study and to find that she has (unwittingly) become “black,” while Obinze finds himself incased in a dangerous life of struggle as an undocumented “foreigner” in London after the U.S. government refuses to let him in. Years later, post-military rule, Obinze is a wealthy man with a family in a newly democratic Nigeria; Ifemelu has achieved success with a provocative blog focused on race in America: Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formally Called Negros) by a Non-American Black. When Ifemelu decides to return home to Nigeria, years after Obinze’s deportation from England, a complicated narrative of rekindled love for their homeland—and for one another—force Ifemelu and Obinze to confront some of the most difficult choices of their lives.
Hello Earlham College class of 2018; what follows is a guide to your common reading and fall discussion of Americanah:
1. Throughout Americanah, the main African/Black characters (in relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and lovers) face complicated racial, caste and class dynamics. Make a short list of some of these dynamics as you read the text. Describe a few of the important ways in which race, caste and class shape the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, as well as those around them.
2. Pay close attention to the variety of ways Adichie’s characters express the complexities of intersecting cultural values and norms, most prominently Nigerian, English, and American. Choose at least two of the cultural dimensions that follow and track how the novel’s characters live-them-out (sometimes humorously) in thought and practice: education; language/dialect; hair style; music; dress; foods; religion; or chose your own cultural dimension(s) for focused observation).
3. As you read, notice the the interrelated themes of 1) “the foreigner” in another country and 2) “alienation” from one’s own culture and customs. How do various characters in the novel react to being “foreigners” in another land? How is “nostalgia” (the yearning or longing for a return to a more meaningful and familiar place or past) expressed in the novel as a defense against alienation from that which is familiar? Why, in the novel, is nostalgia important for securing a person’s sense of security, self-meaning, dignity, communal-belonging, and purpose in life?
4. Keep track of, and identify, the novel’s depiction of female/male gender roles and experiences. Identify the distinctive challenges for women and girls struggling to be “full human beings” as Adichie presents them throughout the novel.
5. In numerous chapters (mostly at their conclusions), Ifemelu inserts “observations” from her informative blog on race in America with headings like
“Understanding America for the Non-American Black: American Tribalism”
“On the Divisions Within the Membership of Non-American Blacks in America”
“Why Dark-Skinned Black Women—Both American and Non-American—Love Barack Obama”
To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby”
“A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor”
“What Academics Mean by White Privilege, or Yes It Sucks to Be Poor but Try Being Poor and Non-White”
“Understanding America for the Non-American Black: Thoughts on the Special White Friend”
Chose any two of Ifemelu’s blogs from the text and offer a “blog” response of your own. You need not chose any of the ones given above.
6. What is the meaning of the novel’s title, Americanah? If you were explaining what an “Americanah” is to a friend, how would you define the term and its significance?
7. After their return in Nigeria, what should (or might) the renewed relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze tell us about the complicated challenges of longing for, and knowing, “true” nationhood in Nigeria, as well as “true” erotic love and companionship? What would you say in a blog about the concluding chapters of the novel?