New Yorkers have spoken, and they want to read Americanah , Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel about a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to the U.S. to study and begin her career, and her first love, Obinze, who stays and builds a life in their homeland.
The One Book, One New York program launched by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Buzzfeed Books in February offered city-dwellers the chance to vote for five books nominated by five celebrities. The program encourages New Yorkers to read the winning book at the same time, and will include a number of local events over the coming months.
Adichie’s novel beat out Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Like the other books nominated, Americanah explores newly timely concepts of immigration, race, and the imperfect realities of American ideals such as diversity and inclusivity.
Adichie also caught up with The Huffington Post in a phone conversation yesterday.
HP – How does it feel to know that New Yorkers picked Americanah? It was up against some other pretty fantastic books.
CNA – Yeah! I know. Obviously, to get any kind of recognition is just lovely, but this is really, really lovely, and I think it’s because I have so much respect for the other books, and I think they are just really fantastic books. When you’re in good company, it’s a good thing. I think there’s also a sense in which, when I was writing Americanah … obviously I hoped it would do well, but I really didn’t think it would. And so to have all this recognition happen brings an extra-special feeling of, really, quite simply, of joy. It just makes me happy.
HP – Why do you think the book ended up resonating so much with this audience?
CNA – I like to think that it’s for the same reasons that I thought it wouldn’t do well. Which is that I didn’t necessarily follow all of the literary rules.
It deals with race in a way that’s very overt. It’s a love story that is ridiculously romanticized in a way, while also being kind of practical. I also wanted it to be a book that just felt true and raw. You know when films want to have the element of cinéma vérité? I wanted this book to have that element, but the literary version.
But I also realized that these are not necessarily the things that lead to success in fiction. Which is why, in some ways, this book has taught me to trust readers, because … I think readers respond to things that feel true. That’s kind of what I’ve decided to use as an explanation, but of course if the book hadn’t done well, I wouldn’t be saying that. [Laughs] I guess I would be using the same reasons to explain why it hadn’t done well.That’s kind of the problem with making decisions about art, you never really know!
Yep. Which is why I think the most important thing is just to be true. Just, and I say this to my students all the time, tell the story you want to tell. Tell it truthfully and then just see what happens.
For more from Adichie on the announcement and the rest of the conversation, click here.
Credit: The Huffington Post