My whole life I’ve lived within twenty kilometres of where I was born. The city of Amsterdam is my habitat. And yet, through family both living and dead I can trace lines all over the world, to Central and Eastern Europe, to the United States, New Zealand and Indonesia. These lines are drawn through immigration, by Dutch people moving out of their country or others leaving home to eventually become Dutch. I expect you’ll find immigration in most family histories. It has always been there.

Immigration is also the topic of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest novel Americanah. It is a love story that’s disrupted by immigration and picked up years later. Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love as young students in Nigeria, but because opportunities are scarce in their country they both seek their luck elsewhere; Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England. While they struggle with their life in a new country they lose contact with each other, despite their best intentions. Adichie expertly shows the many ways you can both fail and succeed as an immigrant. Immigration, however, is but one side of the coin. What happens when you return?

Ifemelu returns to Nigeria many years after Obinze, who turns out to have become a successful businessman. Her old friends call Ifemelu an Americanah and tease her dependence on American luxuries such as air conditioning. At least she hasn’t become a vegetarian! Can she still live in the noise, heat and crowdedness of Lagos or will she become one of those returnees who forever bemoan the state of Nigeria? Inevitably, Obinze and Ifemelu run into each other and their deeply buried love resurfaces. Whether Americanah has a happy or a sad ending you should find out for yourself, but like everything I’ve read so far by Adichie this one comes highly recommended.

8 December 2013

Fourth Estate, 2013


Short story collections are ideal to read alongside other, bigger books. Whenever an empty half hour presents itself you can squeeze in a quick short story. I planned to go slowly with The thing around your neck as well, but as soon as I finished the first story I wanted to go on. From outbursts of sudden violence in Nigeria to domestic drama in the United States, Adichie makes it all come alive. Her narration is warm and gentle and, although a lot of gruesome things happen to them, she is very sympathetic to her characters. She portrays sensitive people who try to keep control of their lives. They usually face an external threat that creates both the action in the story and the reader’s immediate sympathy. Each story works that way from the first page; after a few paragraphs you feel involved and curious.
“Cell one”, “A private experience”, “Jumping monkey hill” and “The headstrong historian” are the strong stories in this collection, but the title story and “The American embassy” stand out especially. “The American embassy” I’d already come across in the Dutch anthology of modern city stories Naar de stad; its quality the reason I wanted to try a whole collection of Adichie’s stories.
The title story portrays the alienation a young immigrant feels as she struggles to find her place in the promised land of opportunity, America. She finds a boyfriend and slowly settles in, but when she contacts her family after a few months it turns out her father has died in the meantime. Suddenly realizing her new life in America didn’t feel right all along she boards a plane back home, probably never to return. After being impressed by her novel Half of a yellow sun already, The thing around your neck again showed Adichie’s excellent writing. I can’t wait for her new book Americanah to come out.

8 April 2013

Fourth Estate, 2009


Een nieuwe stapel boeken om mijn tanden in te zetten. Niet allemaal tegelijk gekocht, maar het resultaat van enkele recente aankopen.

A. den Doolaard – De herberg met het hoefijzer
Een enigszins vergeten schrijver die vaak in Oost-Europa kwam en daar veel boeken over geschreven heeft. Ben benieuwd of het nog leesbaar is.
Jan ProcházkaKoets naar Wenen
Een klein Tsjechisch boekje van 1 of 2 jaar geleden. Leek me toen interessant, maar was het weer uit het oog verloren.
Mohana van den Kroonenberg – Moorddiner
Ik ontmoette deze schrijfster laatst en liep toevallig tegen haar boek aan. Gekke korte verhalen schijnbaar, klinkt goed.
Valeria LuiselliValse papieren
Ik wilde al een tijdje eens een boek van de nieuwe uitgeverij Karaat lezen. Dit werd vergeleken met Teju Cole en W.G. Sebald, dus dat zou mij moeten aanspreken.
Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThe thing around your neck
Een bundel korte verhalen, in aanloop naar haar nieuwe boek dat binnenkort verschijnt. Zij lijkt een favoriet van mij te worden.
A. Alberts – De vrouw met de parasol
Ik ving een gesprek op waarin deze schrijver genoemd werd. Schijnbaar iemand voor fijnproevers.

Bijna allemaal nieuwe namen voor mij en dus koos ik kleine boekjes om mee te beginnen. Zijn er namen of boeken bij die een goede herinnering oproepen?

7 April 2013


L. had been nagging me for some time to read this and, I have to say, she was right. I'm happy I took the time to read it because it's quite a brilliant novel. A perfect follow-up after The Shadow of the sun with its Africa context. I especially liked the 'novel' aspect of Adichie's book. She really uses all facets that the novel offers and makes something unique and refreshing out of it. Multiple characters, each with their own storyline, that converge during the book. Perfect switching back and forth in time, between the time before the Nigerian civil war and during it. I also like the way you read a personal story that incorporates a bigger (and truthful) story. Normally I'm a bit wary of big novels (440 pages this) but I have to say that it's also a plus if a writer takes her time to develop characters and plot and gives you a book that you can live in for a while (for lack of a better metaphor). Maybe I should get over my fear of big novels. After all, it's better to read one good book, instead of two bad ones. Anyway, I think I'd like to check out Adichie's most recent book of stories too, The Thing around her neck. I like her.

19 August 2012


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