I shuffled the quotes a bit, so it is my personal collage of what made me wonder.
People were flattered to be asked about themselves and if she said nothing after they spoke, it made them say more. They were conditioned to fill silences. – this is so true, I’m not a chatty person and my mind still is convinced small talk is for small people, but still I will struggle to fill the silence.
“I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”
She followed shows she had watched in Nigeria—The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, A Different World—and discovered new shows she had not known—Friends, The Simpsons—but it was the commercials that captivated her. She ached for the lives they showed, lives full of bliss, where all problems had sparkling solutions in shampoos and cars and packaged foods, and in her mind they became the real America, the America she would only see when she moved to school in the autumn.
She read the books on Obinze’s list but also, randomly, pulled out book after book, reading a chapter before deciding which she would speed-read in the library and which she would check out. And as she read, America’s mythologies began to take on meaning, America’s tribalisms—race, ideology and region—became clear. And she was consoled by her new knowledge. – those are the small wins of foreigners, when we start to understand our new country, how it works, some and gradually more of the cultural references. it is consoling because it makes the place a bit more ours, even if we’re not from here, we start getting this ‘insider knowledge’ that later puts us not-here and not-there. I always find it fascinating, how much knowledge of a country’s culture and history we take for granted when it’s our country and how much one needs to absorb when moving to another country. My friend once told me that I’ll never understand UK culture if I don’t have a TV, but this is one concession I’m not willing to make.
Thin or skinny
“You know you have the kind of body they like here.” “What?” “You’re thin with big breasts.” “Please, I’m not thin. I’m slim.” “Americans say ‘thin’. Here ‘thin’ is a good word.”
“I was even close to anorexia. The kids at my high school called me Pork. You know at home when somebody tells you that you lost weight, it means something bad. But here somebody tells you that you lost weight and you say thank you. It’s just different here,”
We fight it and we still so often define ourselves through our bodies in every culture.
Depression happens to Americans
Everything had thickened. She was swallowed, lost in a viscous haze, shrouded in a soup of nothingness. Between her and what she should feel, there was a gap. She cared about nothing. She wanted to care, but she no longer knew how; it had slipped from her memory, the ability to care.
Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness. She was not suffering from depression; she was merely a little tired and a little slow.
Doing or being?
“It’s a novel, right? What’s it about?” Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing. – this and ‘how are you?’ are two questions I hate the most in the entire world. If someone asked me when I read Americanah what is it about what am I supposed to answer? If you have any ideas please comment, because I can only think of hostile replies 😉
“Do you have a passion, a dream job?” Ifemelu shook her head. She felt weak, for not having a passion, not being sure what she wanted to do. Her interests were vague and varied, magazine publishing, fashion, politics, television; none of them had a firm shape. – This is something that I really disagree with, this idea that everyone has to have a passion and that because it is their passion they will be good at it and it should be their job. It’s not realistic. For a long time I believed it and I felt bad because my job is not necessarily my passion, but who would pay me to read books all day (and to travel 3-4 times a year)? I admire people that managed to turn their passion into their work, I envy them, but I hate the idea that all the other people are losers that just didn’t find their passion. I can have a job and a passion that I fulfill after, or I can have many hobbies and no passion, or my passion can change every 3 months and no one can judge me or compare me to people that have passion, we’re all different!
He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him that it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being. – this idea I found very interesting, I’ve been doing all the time probably since I was 13 and only recently almost 20 years later I started wondering when I was bored last time, when I stopped to really feel what’s around me now. What came to my mind was one summer that I spent in our summer house on the lake with my friend, we were both somewhere between 10 and 12 years old and the summer was dragging, it was hot sunny and there was nothing to do, we even got bored of feeding marshmallows to ants. So we lay down on the grass and started watching clouds and lazily discussing what they remind us of, on top of my head that’s the last time I ‘was’ not ‘did’, I remember the grass, air, smells, sounds light. It’s a lovely memory and I started using it to stop me from doing at least for a moment.
It puzzled him that she did not mourn all the things she could have been. Was it a quality inherent in women, or did they just learn to shield their personal regrets, to suspend their lives, subsume themselves in child care? – hmmm, this is hard for me to comment on as I don’t have kids, but I sometimes mourn the things I could have been. Don’t get me wrong I love my life and I’ve been very lucky, but I’m not a 100 other things: an astronaut, a writer, a scholar, a translator, an architect the list goes on and on and yes, sometimes I think: ‘My life was supposed to be different’, but then I start thinking what would I change, would I make any other choices? And the answer is always: I wouldn’t change a thing, I don’t regret a thing (maybe just a tiny bit the fact that I’m not a writer ;)) because my decisions and their consequences have made me who I am, if I changed one thing I would be a completely different person. Would I regret sacrificing some opportunities for my kid? I don’t know…
“I’m Vincent,” Obinze said, when they met in the back room. “I’m Dee.” A pause. “No, you’re not English. You can pronounce it. My real name is Duerdinhito, but the English, they cannot pronounce, so they call me Dee.” “Duerdinhito,” Obinze repeated. “Yes!” A delighted smile. A small bond of foreignness. – This is lovely, it made me laugh. I started using full version of my name in UK, because the short version I used before was very often mispronounced and as a result sounded like a name of one of the continents. Luckily my full name is more or less international so transition was easy.
The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers, infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was unconnected to the past, and 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.
Refugees or immigrants
Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well-fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.
Obinze envied them for what they were, men who casually changed names and passports, who would plan and come back and do it over again because they had nothing to lose. He didn’t have their savoir faire; he was soft, a boy who had grown up eating cornflakes and reading books, raised by a mother during a time when truth-telling was not yet a luxury. He was ashamed to be with them, among them. They did not have his shame and even this, too, he envied.
“But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and 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.”
I don’t think the above requires a comment.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska