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Book Club Review: Americanah

Joining a book club is something I have always wanted to do but until today I never got the opportunity. At the first Freely Mag meeting of the semester, our Lead Editor Alex mentioned that he was planning on creating an international club. I signed up immediately. Reading tends to be a very personal experience, we read a book and internalize its message and story. Depending on our background, our experience or our beliefs, we will have very different takeaways from the books we read.

Realizing this is what made Alex decide to launch this bookclub: “As an avid reader, I have always been struck by how a book can be a portal into a new culture, place, or way of thinking. But I’ve also come to realize that our distinct and unique backgrounds make us see, interpret, and experience the world in different ways.”  In short, he wanted to create a space where a diverse group of readers can learn more about themselves and others through interesting and thought-provoking books.

The club met at Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery/restaurant in Center City on a Sunday to discuss the book. A day or two before meeting, Alex sent us a list of questions that would help create the conversation. Though we were only four (fewer than we were expecting), the small number ended up being beneficial because we all got the opportunity to share our ideas and talk about how our own experience related or varied to Ifemelu’s experience in the book.

Our first book was Americanah, by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. The story follows Ifemelu’s journey in America as she leaves Nigeria to attend University in the U.S, where she remains after graduating. The narrative alternates between the present (Ifemelu deciding to go back to Nigeria after many years in America), and flashbacks of what happened to her in America and extracts from Ifemelu’s blog posts that were her main source of income during her time in America. In her posts, she focuses on her experience as an African living in America.

The conversation was very interesting thanks to the different backgrounds of all of us. Two of us were undergraduate seniors with different majors and different origins (European and American), one was a second year masters from Taiwan and the last person works for the International Students Office. We all had very different lives that we discussed during the meeting. We began the meeting by each sharing what liked best about the book and some discussion naturally followed after each of us shared our favorite section. My favorite part was the blog posts that Ifemelu writes. These always rang very true to me and they addressed issues I had never thought about. One of the points our conversation focused on was the white privilege. Three of us were white and have benefited from this white privilege without thinking about it before. In Europe, race is much less discussed and thought about than here in America.

We spent a large amount of time talking about how race is portrayed in the book and how we have personally experienced it in America and elsewhere. One big contrast that is present in the book is the differences between African American and Non American Blacks. The blog posts are mainly addressed to these Non American Blacks. Being Nigerian, Ifemelu never thought about race in the American sense until she arrived in America. This is an experience Yin Fang and I relate to because in our respective countries (Singapore and France) race is not such a focus as it is here in the U.S. Talking to Yin Fang, one of the attendees, about what she thought of the meeting she shared that she really enjoyed the book and the diversity among the attendees helped create an ideal sharing atmosphere. She found it very interesting to hear about the connection between the book and the people’s experience in the U.S. The meeting was also very organised thanks to Alex’s questions that he had sent us in advance which allowed her to think in advance about what she had to share at the meeting.

Overall, the meeting was very enjoyable and the discussion flowed freely and naturally. We finished up by giving suggestions of what book we would be reading next and left it up to Alex to decide. A few weeks later, the decision was made: we would be reading Colorless Tsukuru and his years of Pilgrimage by Murakami. A review of that meeting will be coming soon! Stay tuned.