Saturday, August 30, 2014

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ifemelu is a young girl growing up in an educated family in Nigeria; Obinze is her friend, then boyfriend, then the love of her life. Both good students, Ifemelu manages to obtain admission and a scholarship to a college in Philadelphia, and when she arrives in the United States the author's idea really gets going. While Ifemelu was an African living in Africa and surrounded by Africans race was invisible to her; once she moved to America the issues of race and identity, only hinted at in her homeland, form the core of her experience. She struggles to make a living, struggles to fit in with American and African students, and she must venture out of her student surroundings, observing the various ways white and black Americans react to her in the process.

I've heard from many people that this is a great, overwhelming book, but I thought it had its weaknesses. I found the long segments of the book in which the author explores the ideas of race and identity through the experience of Ifemelu and other central or peripheral characters was very perceptive. Do you define your identity, or does it come from those around you? Is identity a constant or can it be successfully molded at will? And when you move from Nigeria to the United States and back to Nigeria, or even from Philadelphia to Boston to Princeton to New York, are you the same person?

The other major plot is a conventional romance: two young people find each other but life places obstacles in their path. Will they overcome those obstacles to reunite, and will their enduring love turn out to rise above the experiences and situations that have kept them apart? It was this second plot that some may consider "the" story, while I considered it a distraction.

During her time in America the main character becomes a successful blogger, writing on the experience of a non-American black living in America, and the reader sees her experiences reflected in her blog posts in which she thinks about the meaning of those experiences. I don't think it was a coincidence, but I noticed themes in her blog posts similar to those developed by the author in her TED talk, "The Danger Of a Single Story". It's worth watching whether you read the book or not.

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Friday, August 08, 2014


Today and tomorrow, August 8 and 9, mark the glorious fortieth anniversary of the end of the Nixon regime, so it's appropriate to look back, post some memories, and maybe think about the significance of the time.
Having watched it in real time I know that my memories and thoughts have changed over the last forty years. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday my reaction the day I woke up and the news of the break-in broke. "Now they'll never vote to re-elect him" was literally my first thought. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Even looking back it's striking how completely this one story dominated the national attention throughout the summer of 1973, when I would get home from my summer job as a letter carrier to watch the hearings, and into the run-up to impeachment in the summer of 1974. I'll share a few of my observations and maybe you, our readers, will have some thoughts of your own to share.

==> One thing that the revelations of subsequent years have shown us is that Nixon may not have been worse than we thought at the time, but he was definitely worse than we knew. I'm talking, of course, about the fact that had been suspected but has since been confirmed that Nixon betrayed his country by trying to prevent an "October surprise" that would throw the election to Humphrey in 1968. To avoid this Nixon carried on secret communications with the government of South Vietnam urging them not to make any deals, but to hold out until he got into office when he would get them a better deal than they would get from the outgoing Johnson administration.  Think of the tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese whose deaths are directly attributable to this one action on Nixon's part.

==>Nixon and so many of the men--yes, they were all men-- around him were lawyers. Not knowing any lawyers at the time I didn't really understand why it seemed so shocking that it was lawyers saying the things we hear on the tapes and making these decisions, but having spent thirty-five of those intervening years practicing law I now see just how shocking it was. Even if you don't attribute any particular virtue to lawyers, how could they not have considered the legal consequences and criminal liability as they sat in the Oval Office planning payoffs of a million dollars to convince potential witnesses to clam up or lie in order to protect the presidency? If nothing else, this level of criminality, in which the President, the Attorney General, and all of his top aides were in it up to their elbows proves that Nixon was uniquely corrupt in the ranks of American presidents.

==>Finally, the "where were you?" moment. We knew the resignation was coming, but I didn't get to see either of his last two speeches on television. The announcement of his resignation was on the evening of August 8, and while he was making his resignation speech I was at Pine Knob outside of Detroit at a Joni Mitchell concert. We knew the time was coming, and someone a few rows in front of us had a portable television, but we didn't see anything. Still, the crowd roared with one voice when Joni came onstage after a warmup set of dental music from her backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, and announced "The president has resigned!" 

What about you? Where were you and what do you remember? 

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