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Reading Notes for Americanah

Anne Dalke's picture

Anne's Reading Notes from Americanah [p. #s from hardback edition]

Day One, Chs. 1-11
Part I, Ch 1
3: she could pretend to be someone else...adorned with certainty
5: the more she wrote, the less sure she became
6: things she'd learned not to say aloud/cement in her soul/piercing homesickness
7: no cause: layers of discontent, looking out the window
11: welcome to a fellow African
13: market woman imunc to the cosmetic niceties of American customer service
16: perverse pleasure in her intimidation
17: How create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined.
Ch 2: Obinze: O bean ZAY
21: feel bloated by all he'd acquired/ undisturbed air of well-being/urge to pirck/deflate it all
23: Lagos is about hustling.
24: plowing eagerness of men in need; ego-burnishers
27: disorienting strangeness: hollow space between himself and the person he was supposed to be
28: Korsi's wholesome agreeableness, immodest modesty
29: did not share their certainties; spent too much time
mourning what could have been, questioning what should be
31: the teaching life would suit him
33: valued honesty over humility
34: Kosi's insecurity silenced him; he wished she feared less, conformed less
Part 2, Ch. 3
41: her mother cuts her hair, is saved
47: her father's blanched longings, anxieties, lost job
51: refusal to make decorations for a thief
denial that things were as they were
53: Aunty Uju as buffer
Ch. 4
61: she liked this image of herself as too much trouble/a carapace that kept her safe
self-affection. He made her like herself.
Ch 5
66: he fit much more than she did
admired her being outspoken and different, didn't see beneath that
68: How can I just be myself? What does that even mean?
69: fluid, bantering rapport free of restraint, fear of consequences;
not the familiar shape of a relationship with a parent
72: wait unti you own yourself a little more
Ch 6

74: look @ self w/ eyes of the girl she used to be?
77: ass-licking economy
78: on being attracted to power
83: not as it shoud be: shake her into a clear-eyed self,
not lay her hopes on the General, slaving and shaving for him, fading his flaws
pregnancy--> death in plane crash
87: helplessness foreign to her
Ch 7
91: University bigger, baggier, room to hide, options for belonging
92: strike: life a turgid and suspended film
94: world fragile and breakable
Ch 8
plans to go to America
Ch 9
104: return to expectation of "shared space of Africanness" in hair salon
105: memories of first summer: heat, silence full of stones
106: blogging on being Hipanic, slight step above blacks in the Am race ladder
107: Dike's hyper-happiness; Uju's apologetic, self-abasing persona:
111: America had subdued her
Ch 10
112: summer of waiting
114: ached for the lives in the commercials: the real America
115: puzzlement ripened to worry

Day Two,
Chapters 11-23:

Ch 11
, p. 118: Afterwards they would return to America to fight on the Internet over their mythologies of home, because home was now a blurred place between here and there, and at least online they could ignore the awareness of how inconsequential they had become.
p. 120: There is was again, the strange naivete with which Aunty Uju had covered herself like a blanket...Aunt Uju had deliberately left behind something of herself, something essential, in a distant and forgotten place. Obinze said it was the exaggerated gratitude that came with immigrant insecurity.
Ch 12, p. 130:....with a laugh that suggested yet another foreign pathology had emerged....When it comes to dressing well, American culture is so self-fulfilled that it has not only disregarded this courtesy of self-presentation, but has turned that disregard into a virtue. "We are too superior/busy/cool/not-uptight to bother about how we look to other people....
Ch 13, p. 132: And she had the sudden sensation of fogginess, of a milky web through which she tried to claw. Her autumn of half blindness had begun, the autumn of puzzlements, of experiences she had knowing there were slippery layers of meaning that eluded her.
Ch 14, p 135: School in America was easy...But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called "participation" merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words....
p. 137: she had begun, finally, to grasp the power books had....And as she read, America's mythologies began to take on meaning, American's tribalisms--race, ideology, and region--became clear. And she was consoled by her new knowledge.
p. 140: they mimicked what Americans told them....And they themselves mocked Africa, trading stories of absurdity, of stupidity, and they felt safe to mock, because it was mockery born of longing, and of the heartbroken desire to see a place made whole again.
Ch. 15, p. 145: she goes to Bryn Mawr
p. 153: for a omment Ifemelu was sorry to have come from Africa, to be the reason that this beautful woman...would have to dig deep to feel such pity, such hopelessness.
Ch. 16, p. 164: she wished Kimberly would not be so sheer in her yieldingness
p. 165: It was an aggressive, unaffectionate interest; strange indeed, to pay so much attention to something you did not like....Kimberly's repeated apologies were tinged with self-indulgence, as though she believed that she could, with apologies, smooth all the scalloped surfaces of the world.
p. 171: Ifemelu knew that for a long time afterwads, she would not unwrap from herself the pashmina of the wounded.
p. 172: Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy.
p. 173: he was no longer transparent. Something had filmed itself around him, making him difficult to read....looking up...with a weariness too heavy for a child.
Ch. 17, p. 177: Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American?...she had taken on, for too long, a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers. And so she...resolved to stop faking the American accent....This was truly her....
p. 180: their righteousness made her feel both irritated and lacking
p. 186: In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds--class, ideology, region, and race.
Ch. 18, p. 193: ...thinking of her own new American selves. It was with Curt that she had first looked in the mirror and, with a flush of accomplishment, seen someone else.
p 198: He was upbeat, relentlessly so, in a way that only an American of his kind could be, and there was an infantile quality to this that she found admirable and repulsive.
Ch. 20, p. 215: Posting on the website was like giving testimony in church; the echoing roar of approval revived her.
Ch. 21, p. 219: ...that is the kind of thing they teach them here. Everybody is conflicted, identity this, identity that...These people, they make you become aggressive just to hold your dignity.

Day Three, Chapters 24-38:

Ch 24, p. 238: Perhaps friendship in their present circumstances was impossible because...he...was too close to what she was; he knew her nuances, while she was free to reinvent herself with the Polish woman, to be whoever she wanted to be.
p. 247: She is one of those black people who want to be the only black person in the room, so any other black person is an immediate threat to her.
Ch. 27, pp. 260-1:...they had never considered this to be the normal course of history: the influx into Britain of black and brown people from countries created by Britain. Yet he understood. It had to be comforting, this denial of history....he saw the unfettered non-white foreigness of this scene through the suspicious eyes of the white woman....he thought of...the life he had imagined for himself, and the life he now had, lacquered as it was by work and reading, by panic and hope. He had never felt so lonely.
Ch. 29, p. 274:...the most troubling things was the garishness of the nationalism....
p. 278: they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not undertand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else...were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave....merely hungry for choice and certainty.
Part Four
Ch. 31, p. 291-2: there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach...."the only reason you say that race was not an issues is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it's a lie."
p 298: she longed for other listeners, and she longed to hear the stories of others. How many other people chose silence? How many other people had become black in america? How many had felt as though their world was wrapped in gauze?
Ch. 33,p. 305: The blog had unveiled itself and shed its milk teeth; by turns, it surprised her, pleased her, left her behind. Its readers increased, by the thousands from all over the frightened her. And it exhilarated her....She checked her blog e-mail too often, like a child eagerly tearing open a present she is not sure she wants....
p. 307: During her talks, she said: "America has made great progress for which we should be very proud." In her blog she wrote: Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it.
Ch. 34, p. 313: her posts sounded too academic, too much like him…”I don’t want to explain, I want to observe,” she said. “Remember people are not reading ou as entertainment, they’re reading you as cultural commentary. That’s a real responsibility….You’re being lazy, Ifem.”
p. 316: maybe it’s time to just scrap the word “racist.” Find something new. Like Racial Disorder syndrome. And we could have different categories for sufferers of this syndrome: mild, medium, and acute.
Ch. 35, p. 321: “To be a child of the Third World is to be aware of the many different constituencies you have n dhow honesty and truth must always depend on context”….”That is so lazy, to use the Third World like that.”
Ch. 36, p. 328: Try listening, maybe, Hear what is being said. And remember that it’s not about you…say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway…Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.
Ch. 37, pp. 336-7: He thinks we should complicate it, so it’s not race alone…’Nuance’ means keep people comfortable so everyone is free to think of themselves as individual and everyone got where they are because of their achievement….’You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country…Black writers…have two choices; they can do precious or they can do pretentious.
Ch. 38, p. 341: Perhaps Blaine resented this mutuality, something primally African from which he felt excluded.
p. 342: “They do not doubt their presence here, these students….they have bought us all. It is the key to America’s greatness, this hubris…they do not understand that they should be grateful to have me stand before them.”
p. 346: “you know, it’s not just about writing a blog, you have to live like you believe it. That blog is a game that you don’t really take seriously., it’s like choosing an interesting elective evening class to complete your credits.” She recognized, in his tone, a subtle accusation, not merely about her laziness, her lack of zeal and conviction, but also about her Africanness; she was not sufficiently furious because she was African, not African American.

Day Four, Chapters 39-55 (to end)

Ch. 40, p. 358: “this speech was not done to open up a conversation about race but actually to close it. He can win only if he avoids race.”
Ch 42, p. 369: He had at first been excited by Facebook, ghosts of old friends suddenly morphing to life with wives and husbands and children, and photos trailed by comments. But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.
p. 374: The blog posts astonished him, they seemed so American and so alien, the irreverent voice with its slanginess, its mix of high and low language….
Ch. 44, p. 390: she felt suddenly, guiltily grateful that she had a blue American passport in her bag. It shielded her from choicelessness. She could always leave; she did not have to stay.
Ch. 48, p. 408: [@ the “Been-To,” or Nigerpolitan meeting] she caught the righteousness in her voice, in all their voices. They were the sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer...they could reach so easily for the same references.
Ch. 51, p. 430: “It’s such a transactional city,” she said. “Depressingly transactional. Even relationships, they’re all transactional.”
p. 431: “Nigerians can be so obsequious….It’s not difficult for us to be insincere. We are a confident people but we are so obsequious. We have confidence but no dignity….One of the things I’ve learned is that everybody in this country has the mentality of scarcity. We imagine that even the things that are not scarce are scarce. And it breeds a kind of desperation in everybody. Even the wealthy.”
p. 434: “The best thing about America is that it gives you space. I like that. I like that you buy into the dream, it’s a lie but you buy into it and that’s all that matters.”
p. 436: “Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.”
Ch 52, p. 444: “Real potatoes are backward for him. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven’t completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow’s udder.”
Ch. 54, p. 456: “…this is the problem with you Igbo people. You don’t do brother-brother….” “It’s true,” Obinze said. “It’s sad, it’s the legacy of being a defeated people. We lost the Biafran war and learned to be ashamed.” “It is just selfishness!”
p. 458: “I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a start for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression”….he wanted that imaginary child to be his, that conservative child with good manners.
p. 464: Obinze feared she would grow up to be a woman who, with that word “amen,” would squash the questions she wanted to ask of the world. And now Kosi was sinking to her knees before him and he did not want to comprehend what she was doing….She was kneeling and begging him not to leave and he wished she would be furious instead.
p.472: “Look, the Zed, many of us didn’t marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this need for this kind of white-people behavior…We don’t behave like that, please.”
Ch 55, p. 473: Each memory stunned her with its blinding luminosity. Each brought with it a sense of unassailable loss, a great burden hurling towards her, and she wished she could duck, lower herself so that it would bypass her, so that she would save herself. Love was a kid of grief….the songs brought to her memoires a finality, as though they were dirges. She was wounded by the halfheartedness in his texting and calling, the limpness of his efforts. He loved her, she knew, but he lacked a certain strength; his backbone was softened by duty.