“Americanah did things to me,” Mimi Mwiya on the bestselling Adichie Novel
A book on dreams, that’s what I had wanted when my big brother called me from a holiday in Cape Town to ask me what he should bring me back. I was struggling to find a good book on dreams back home, so I asked him to find me one from there. I’m not sure if he truly searched as widely as he claimed he had and indeed failed, or he had simply failed to make the time. But I did not get my book on dreams.
To make up for it, he got me all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books instead. Not a terrible consolation prize at all, I was really excited. I planned to shut the world out for an entire week and just read. I started with Americanah… I shouldn’t have. I read it over two days, finishing on the night of the second day. I was crying. I was sharing my room with a visiting friend who tried talking to me, but she didn’t understand what I had just gone through, and I couldn’t explain my tears to her, I didn’t even know what it was I was feeling.
I sat in a corner of the room, on the floor, abandoning my bed, hugging myself, looking for some sort of solace. My emotions were all over the place. I eventually went to sleep. The next day I tried to start on Half of a Yellow Sun, I couldn’t, I was still feeling a little too raw from Americanah to read anything else. That feeling lasted a good month, it was broken only by my laying sight on Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, I saw it and I was excited to read a book again, I saw it and I felt perhaps the rawness left by Americanah had healed.
I tried to read Half of a Yellow Sun again, I couldn’t, I picked up Purple Hibiscus, I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I picked up The Thing around Your Neck, and no luck there either. It dawned on me then that I had made a grave error in reading Americanah first, it had ruined me for Adichie’s other offerings.
That was about a year ago. As I was travelling last month, Half of a Yellow Sun is the one book I carried with me. I thought I would force myself to read it, because I would really like to see the movie and I have a policy of not seeing movies that are adapted from books, but should I make the exception, I must first read the book. I have been trying, but it’s proving to be the slowest I’ve ever read anything, so I’ve kind of abandoned that mission.
“That book did things to me and it ruined me for Adichie’s other offerings.” is usually what I would say when asked about Americanah. “It did things to me.” I had no idea how to put it any more eloquently. People would ask “What things?” and I just wouldn’t be able to explain the way I’d felt. Then a friend suggested that perhaps I should reread it, to figure out exactly what it had made me feel, to see if I’d still feel ‘these things’ and I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea, because I had also started to wonder a little if I had maybe just exaggerated how I felt.
Some days ago, I got to a friend’s house and found she had Americanah, I had some time on my hands and decided to use this time to reread it. I nearly abandoned it after the first few pages, thinking, ‘Why am I putting myself through this? I know how this ends.’ But an experiment hangs in the balance, so I kept reading.
And just like the first time, I get engrossed in the story, three chapters in and I couldn’t put it down, I was being as antisocial as the first time. I’m about half way through now, and I remember. I remember how this book slowly peeled away at my nerves and left me raw, how I felt like life isn’t the kind of happy endings we’d like it to be, in fact, sometimes it seems like life gets in the way of happy endings. Raw. That’s what Americanah made me feel, still makes me feel.
I wish of Adichie’s books, I had saved it for last, because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read any of her other books. I’m not sure if I’m afraid the style isn’t the same and I won’t find them as enjoyable, or that they too will ‘do things’ to me. I don’t know. But I’m done.