My dear reader, long time, no see! There are a lot of things that prevented me from showing up to this space like I intended this month (and last month…) but this month, I can happily say that I was very, very busy reading. June was a record breaking month for me. I read 11 titles this month! I usually get about five to seven, so this truly was a big month for me. I don’t like to rank books, but I will say that this month I was reading heavy material, things that I needed to sit and think about a while, things I needed to recover from and reflect upon, so I’m particularly proud of that 11 this month.
Since we’re at the halfway mark of this challenge and year (YIKES!), I want to reflect on what this experience has done for me so far, so stay tuned for that post! I will also pick a top five of the challenge so far.
For now, I want to reflect on what I think has been my favorite month of reading since I read Black America in February: Sub-Saharan Africa!
What I Read
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This one was a BIG winner for me. I devoured it. Americanah tells the parallel stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, high school sweethearts who grew up in Lagos in the ’90s. Ifemelu, who successfully immigrated to the United States for her graduate program, navigates the intricacies of race in America while simultaneously wondering what she might have lost by leaving her home country of Nigeria. Obinze, who was not able to immigrate, attempts to build a life without Ifemelu in Lagos where he feels fulfilled and happy, all the while warring with what tradition demands of him and what he genuinely wants for himself. I learned a lot about Lagos and was especially intrigued by the relationship that wealthy Nigerians have with their home and going abroad. Recently, Adichie went on her Instagram to read aloud various passages from the novel, mostly from Ifemelu’s blog posts which meditate on race in America. I highly recommend you listen to some of those, and then pick up this book. It was amazing.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I had heard so much praise for this book. It’s raked up a ton of praise and accolades since its release in 2016 and it’s consistently been on and off the best seller list since it’s release. I remember never being able to keep it on the shelf at the library when I worked there. Though this was nothing like I was expecting, I enjoyed every second of it. A wild ride from start to finish! In this memoir, Daily Show host Trevor Noah recounts his upbringing in South Africa, in a time when his very existence was a crime. I remember watching a documentary in the seventh grade about Apartheid but we never studied it any further in school. This book was so eye-opening and raw; Noah never shied away from talking about the racism, hatred, and fear he experienced while growing up. Of course, the reality of Apartheid haunts the entire book, but Noah infuses his story with charm, humor, and warmth. It’s also a moving tribute to his mother, who fought her entire life to have what she wanted despite what others felt was appropriate for her. I will say that the story leaves off before Noah rockets to fame in the US, so more research will be required if you want to know how Noah went from part-time comedian doing circuits in South Africa to being one of America’s premier voices on comedy and politics.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: I’m going to preface this by saying this was my least favorite book of the month, simply for the violence and misogyny that is rampant in the story, but it is nonetheless a critical text for understanding colonization, the Black experience, and imperialism. It is a classic, and my personal dislikes can’t reduce the place of honor it holds in Classic literature. The story follows Okonkwo, a respected strong man in an Igbo village, as he attempts to rise in the ranks of his clan and fend off the “settlement” of Christians. Okonkwo is probably one of the least likable characters I’ve read (not as bad as Esteban Treuba but close!) and he engages in a lot of behaviors that are reprehensible such as murder and physical abuse on top of being the epitome of toxic masculinity, but in the end, the violence (both physical, spiritual, and emotional) done to him and his clan members by the Christian colonizers is the most horrific and brutal violence done in the novel. I’ve been considering continuing the series (there are three novels total), since Okonkwo is not in the rest of the novels and the colonization of Africa continues to play out, but I haven’t made up my mind. The writing itself was beautiful and rich with magic and imagery, and I learned a lot about the practices and beliefs of the Igbo people. Though I didn’t personally enjoy this novel, it’s a critical text and I encourage you to check it out!
- The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré: This was my first ever Book of the Month pick, which I selected in February, but I waited patiently for Subsaharan Africa to roll around in June, so I’ve only just read it. I’m glad I waited, since the pandemic happened and getting books has been hard. This debut novel tells the story of Adunni, a young girl living in an impoverished village in Nigeria in the present day (well, the early 2010s). After a truly unfortunate series of events, Adunni is forced to leave everything and everyone she knows and go on the run to Lagos where she takes a position as a housemaid. Adunni wants more for herself, her village, and her family, so she makes it her mission to become educated and improve her lot in life through her mind. Adunni’s story is harrowing, and there are scenes of rape and physical violence, so beware. Still, this novel is flush with beautiful and vivid depictions of female friendship, compassion, and empowerment. I do think this book villainized life in the poorer regions of Nigeria, but I also feel like it attempted to prove that the conditions were the reason that people treated each other harshly, and not because poor people are inherently evil or that rural African people are backwards and ignorant and violent by nature. I think this was a great book to read against Americanah, because it showed what life was like for some people of Nigeria who don’t live in Lagos and aren’t swimming in money, the other half as it were. Ifemelu was not wealthy herself, but she didn’t experience the level of poverty that Adunni did, and I think it was an important parallel to see how different women’s lives can be when money is involved. It will probably take you some time to adjust to the dialect of the novel since it is told through Adunni’s perspective and in her voice, but stick with it! You’ll catch on and be glad you spent a little time with her.
All of the novels I read except for Born a Crime are set in Nigeria. It was not easy to find stories from other countries or clans, and going forward, I want to try to seek out more stories from different places in Africa. Nigeria is considered the seat of power in Africa, with a robust economy and growing global power. Nigeria also largely speaks and writes in English, which gives it even more access into American literary markets because it doesn’t need to be translated. For those reasons alone, it makes sense that most of the novels that I was able to get my hands on were from Nigerian authors.
It is important to note also that all of these authors no longer live in Africa full-time. Trevor Noah and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are prominent figures in American politics and culture, Chinua Achebe was a professor at American universities until his death (though he remained in Nigeria as a prominent activist for the majority of his life), and Abi Daré now lives in the United Kingdom. I mention this because it is important to always be aware of who is getting to tell the stories we have access to and what privileges they have. As a reader, it’s important to know the perspectives of the author, especially when you’re doing a challenge like this that prioritizes Own Voices in the world.
As a white American growing up in the south, I was not exposed to anything about Africa in my schooling aside from the one documentary we watched in seventh grade about the Apartheid and general information about the slave trade. In my gifted courses in elementary school, we studied Egypt, but an Egypt wholly severed from Africa, an Egypt of the Greco-Roman empire where people were light skinned with European styled features. I didn’t learn about Rwanda until I was in college. I haven’t read a novel set in Africa until this month. The American education system fails students in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is by refusing to acknowledge the beauty, diversity, and brilliance of African cultures and peoples.
They teach us that Egypt was different from the rest of Africa, that colonization of the continent was merely a game of Risk, and that African people sold their own clan members into slavery to get rich. This is not only wholly wrong, but it reduces an entire continent of people into one dark race of ignorant, violent, godless heathens. I can tell you this unequivocally: the only ignorant, violent, and godless heathens that ever set foot on Africa were white. Period.
Colonization is not over. It never ended. White nations still demand that all people conform to their language, beliefs, religions, and values (debatable if white people have those!). They still silence, violate, and destroy all people unwilling to bend to their hateful rules. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to Black folks, and to all the people that White Supremacy murdered to do better.
You have access to everything you need to learn. You have access to the answer to every question you have ever had. You have access to educators, teachers, thinkers, and all the other people who live in the world every day smothered under the boot of White Supremacy. Don’t ask your one Black friend or the one Black thinker you follow on Instagram. Google it. Google will tell you the answers, but you have to ask the questions. You can learn the history to anything you can think of, but you have to do the work. You have no excuse not to.
- Nigeria’s Wealth Gap: Obviously, America can say very little to condemn the wealth gap in Nigeria considering our own, but this is an important read for me to contextualize the difference in experience between Americanah’s Ifemelu and TGWTLV’s Adunni. It also gives some gender information as well.
- Black Lives Matter in Africa: The BLM Movement is sparking debate not just in America, but all over the world. In Africa, where the conceptions of race are a little different, young activists and creatives are finding ways to show solidarity with Black Americans while actively working to dismantle colonialism in their own countries.
- Healing Sounds: Take a small moment to breathe deeply and center yourself with this beautiful performance from Nduduzo Makhathini And Omagugu Makhathini, a South African couple who are breaking into the American Jazz scene.
- On Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Transphobic Remarks: In 2017, Adichie went on a news program to talk about her recent book about feminism. During the interview, Adichie made remarks about transwomen that were misguided and frankly transphobic, and in an attempt to clarify, she made things worse. I bring this up because another famous “feminist” author who shall not be named has exposed herself as transphobic (more violently than Adichie). This topic is timely in more ways than one, but it comes down to who we can stand to cancel and between Adichie and She Who Will Not Be Named, tallying up privileges, chances to learn and do better, the number of mistakes, and a long history of colonialism, imperialism, and White Supremacy, we will not be cancelling Adichie.
I’m wishing you a month of reflection, rest, and learning my dear reader. Do the work to fight for the human rights of Black Americans, de-colonize your mind and your reading, and know that every day of this work, no matter how hard, you are working towards a better world for everyone. Until next time, dear reader….