April 2020 | Books & Links
Granta 146 – The Politics of Feeling – Granta
Granta is a quarterly mix of fiction, non-fiction, sequential art, photo essays and interviews, but this collection contains more non-fiction than the collection on Japan I read in December, so I’m listing it under non-fiction. I found a second-hand copy of Granta 146 on World of Books as I prefer reading physical books than a digital subscription on my phone, but all of the articles are available online with a subscription. A select few from each issue are open-access. I’d subscribe, but I am terrible at letting periodicals pile up, so it’s better for me just to buy copies of the issues I’m interested in as and when I want to read them.
Granta 146 was a mixed bag for me and I didn’t love everything, but standout pieces include Poppy Sebag-Montefiore’s ‘Touch’, Benjamin Markovits’ ‘Picking Up Nathan from the Airport’ and Joff Winterhart’s graphic story ‘B-Road Encounter’.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah had been on my list of books to read for more than a year, but every time I wanted to check it out at the library it was already out on loan. Just before the library closed I found it on the shelf when I went in to browse and so I finally got round to reading it. Americanah tells the story of two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they grow up in Nigeria before leaving the country at some point in the mid to late 1990s (from what I can gather from the cultural reference points) for the USA and the UK. Although Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship and estrangement provide the backbone of the novel, it is primarily a novel about race, identity, and belonging, and what it’s like to be black in the USA.
It’s hard to comment on a novel like this as an outsider; I am not black, Nigerian, or American. At one point, a character rallies against subtlety when talking about race, and whilst I appreciate that, I felt that at times because the central themes were unabashedly front and centre, the novel was more of an autobiographical collection of essays on race and identity, dressed up as conversations between characters and blog posts written by Ifemelu. The story, which is quite strong in the first third of the book, falls away as the novel progresses, and events seem to happen just to illustrate a point or experience rather than to drive the story forward. Large sections are given over to minor characters discussing race and identity over cocktails, while the development of the main characters remains quite thin. When something happens to one of the main characters – Ifemelu’s second cousin Dike – in the final 100 pages, it is jarring because he hasn’t been developed enough as a character for the reader to truly feel for him or his family. I would also have liked to read more about Obinze and what happened in his life in the intervening years, as it’s unclear what happens to him between being deported from the UK and Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria some years later. How did he accrue his wealth, and how did he find being back in Nigeria after spending time in London?
Americanah is well worth reading as a detailed exploration of race, identity, and belonging in contemporary America and Nigeria, but I just feel that the subject matter would have been better suited to an essay collection or auto-biography than a novel, as I didn’t find the storytelling immersive enough.
Links & Articles
I do worry, of course, when I think of all the people who have lost their jobs. But, when I learned of the impending quarantine, I felt something like relief. I know many people felt similarly, even if they also felt ashamed of it. My introversion, long strangled and abused by hyperactive extroverts, has brushed itself off and come out of the closet.A New World Through My Window by Olga Tokarczuk
The history of epidemics. I found it particularly interesting to hear that Trump’s “The Chinese Virus” comments have historical counterparts as, throughout history, nations have tried to pin the blame on other countries whenever an outbreak has occurred.
A fascinating long read about the 1918 flu pandemic, commonly known as ‘Spanish Flu’. My great-grandfather died of Spanish Flu, although I have only recently been able to piece it all together, previously believing that he had died of the common flu, which didn’t make sense to me as he was an otherwise healthy young man when he died. I knew that my grandfather, born in August 1912, had been sent to live in an orphanage following his father’s death when he was 5, and I made the connection when I looked at the dates in my grandfather’s memoirs and combined Mum’s piecemeal history of events with the dates of the pandemic.