on Americanah (a book review)

americanahAmericanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Synopsis

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

My thoughts

Speechless. This is storytelling at it’s best. She challenges the reader, but is such a beautiful weaver of words that I was swept into her story before I even knew what was happening. She weaves and moves so eloquently this felt like reading a dance—every move perfectly executed. This story is part commentary on race(ism) in America, part coming of age and part love story. It’s woven together so beautifully it catches one with surprise—and delight.

I love how imperfect her characters are. She didn’t spare her protagonists. Adichie created complex human beings who live in this real world. They were sometimes successful, sometimes failing. Their ideals were challenged and they were forced to respond, change, and adapt. Some places broke my heart.

As for the commentary on racism part, Adichie points out the obvious, but always with an almost question-mark, that leaves the book, as a whole, easily digestible for people who don’t want to see racism. This is done so well. Because Ifemelu is an outsider, she’s able to observe from a distance, which gives the reader the space to observe through her eyes. For example, she explains the simplest things—Ifemelu can’t buy a mainstream magazine for beauty tips because none of the models look like her—even though the magazine boasts it coveres all skin types. Because she’s an outsider, Ifemelu is “allowed” to notice and comment on these things.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Ambivalent?

on filling empty spaces

I have a thing that’s holding space. It exists in my life in order to give me something to do while I wait. At it’s best, it’s a distraction from the waiting. It’s not bad or inherently evil. In some ways it connects me to the outside world and (theoretically) helps pay some bills.

But it’s just not mine. It’s not my dream, or my passion. It’s simply holding space for when my dream actualizes—for the thing that lights me up and makes me get out of the bed in the morning. I have glimpses of what it could be…but right now it feels so out reach and unattainable.

So I wait.

And I Noonday.

Over Christmas I felt the Spirit, pressing in asking me to release it back. To let go of this thing that was holding space because somehow it had become more than that. I wrestled, not wanting to give it up. I feel like I am part of something bigger—and it feels good. I don’t know how to fill the empty spaces…I don’t know how to sit in this season of unknowingness. I didn’t want to give it up because at least it’s something.

I whispered the words to a friend testing them out

So, I think I may be done being an ambassador for Noonday. I knew it was a space holder. I just didn’t think it was a one-year thing…

I think we hope our space holders will be more than just temporary. They hold space for a reason, mostly because at some point, it comforts us.

So I loosened my grip and brought myself back into alignment. I remembered who I am at my core. And I felt the invitation to stay here a little longer. It means setting boundaries—not giving all of myself over to this thing that is mine but not. It will mean saying no a lot more and watching some opportunities pass by. But it means I will also be able to say yes to things that matter a little more…and it means I’ll get to go a little deeper when I do say yes.

It means trusting this writing process. So many half-starts and unfinished words littering thousands of spaces on my computer; my dresser drawers over-flow with journals…I let that defeat me. I started to believe that was all I would have to show. Instead of trusting that as long as I come back to this place again and again, it will bear fruit. This is not wasted time, nor wasted effort.

It means getting back to my roots—I’m a story-teller. I’m a lover of words. I’m a lover of collaboration and peace-making. Whatever I do can be a part of that, but writing is my “way back to life” (Stephen King, On Writing). It’s how I make the world make some semblance of sense to me.

What about you? What are the things that are holding space in your life? And how do you come back to yourself when your space holders become more than that?

on love

dougsarahski21 years old, in college, before-and-after-class small talk.

Inevitably it would come up.

I’m getting married.

Looks of shock, surprise, disbelief. I tried to explain…

We’ve been together since high school…We know each other really well…

I don’t think people had a very flattering view of me. I always felt awkward and embarrassed. I don’t know when it happened, but now whenever this little tidbit comes up…

Oh, I married my high school sweet heart. We’ve been together for over fifteen years.

People think it’s sweet.

Wow! That’s amazing—you guys got to grow up together. That’s really cool.

I’m not sure when the transition happened. When did our’s become a sweet story? When did we move past that  awkward teenager phase to this thing that (sometimes-maybe) feels like an actual love story?

I’m not sure what to do with the then-now thoughts. In many ways I’m not sure what happened—we just stayed together, almost despite my best efforts. I love our history. I love our story. But it mostly feels like a whole lot of grace and a little bit of luck.

She told me once, sometimes it’s really obvious you guys have been together since you were kids.

You mean like when I steal his shoes and yank really hard on the bottom most lace so he has to unlace his whole shoe to fix it? That type of thing? Yeah—lots of things there. That was our first fight—and we both agree he was an idiot on that one. We were young and a little foolish, calling this thing we felt love.

But if we had listened to the skeptics, or given up, we wouldn’t have this story. There were so many mistakes and hurts along the way—so much baggage. Our history is littered with fights and tears and late night discussions and almost break ups. Darkness I never thought we would escape. Sharp, bitter disappointments on both sides.

Somehow we carved out this life together.

We had to grow up in love. How I understand love now would be different if I didn’t grow up in these trenches. I wouldn’t know how love stays and fights. I wouldn’t know that I can make the same mistakes over and over and over and experience forgiveness over and over and over. We had to learn not to hold grudges. Without our story, I wouldn’t know how to lose myself in a relationship, only to rediscover myself all over again. I wouldn’t know that love meant holding loosely—giving the beloved the room to fly and sometimes to fall. I wouldn’t know that love means support even when I don’t agree or don’t understand. And that while we are journeying together, we’re also on our own individual journeys, and that’s OK. I get to celebrate the times we meet up and travel together. I learned love means the space to breathe. We are two independent people learning to move in harmony, learning to hold space for the pieces we know and the pieces we are less familiar with, learning to love a person we don’t always like, fighting for affection and romance in the midst of real life.

I married the boy I started dating a month before I turned fifteen.

I don’t know anything else.

on reading

IMG_0457I don’t need assistance in reading more.

I need help reading intentionally.

It’s easy for me to read to escape—when things start coming up I have to remind myself to stay present and to feel the feelings, to embrace what’s happening in my body instead of fighting it. I LOVE books. More than movies. More than television. And with every good thing given, it’s balanced on a razor’s edge. It’s so easy for me to take something good and abuse it, using it to escape instead of to grow. And the more I am using books to escape, the quality of what I’m reading plummets. I’m looking for my next escape and I end up reading all sorts of random things that aren’t beneficial for me.

This year I felt an invitation to be more intentional about what I was reading. I hope this will combine my love of reading and remind me to stay present in my life.

So I’m using the process created by Anne over at http://modernmrsdarcy.com/

Her process is simple: 12 books in 12 categories. Here’s what I picked for this year

Series: A book published this year

The High Mountain of Portugal

Author: Yann Martel

I adored The Life of Pi. I had never ready a story that surprised and delighted me as much. I haven’t read anything else by Yann Martel, so I’m looking forward to meeting up again with this story-teller.

 

Series: A book you can finish in a day

glassmagicianThe Glass Magician

Author: Charlie M. Holberg

The first book in this series, The Paper Magician, kept popping up as a recommended read every time I turned around. And even though I enjoyed the first book, it took me a lot longer to read than it should have because I kept getting distracted. I am notorious for not finishing series so I decided to a) make progress in this series and b) not have it hanging over my head.

Series: A book you’ve been meaning to read

lifechangingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Author: Marie Kondo

I first bumped into this one at Barnes and Noble. I was intrigued and glanced through the first chapter. I didn’t buy it that day but I kept noticing it. I finally bought it after hearing Anne rave about it, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Series: A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller

TBD

Series: A book you should have read in school

taleoftwoA Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens

I never read this book in high school like most of my peers. I know the opening lines and am familiar with the plot, thanks to Wishbone (anyone else remember that show about the dog re-enacting stories?). It’s time to check it off the list.

 

Series: A book chosen by a spouse, child, BFF, etc.

waterWater From a Deep Well

Author: Gerald L. Sittser

I have been geeking out of over Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water for over a month. (There’s a blog series in the works.) The same friend that gave me that book said this was next up. I’m looking forward to learning more about the rich heritage of my faith.

 

Series: A book published before you were born

thomasmertonContemplative Prayer

Author: Thomas Merton

I have been reading several things lately whose authors have quoted Thomas Merton. I have also recently had the opportunity to practice contemplative prayer in a group setting. I am interested in learning more about this practice

 

Series: A book that was banned at some point

colorpurpleThe Color Purple

Author: Alice Walker

I googled banned books and was drawn to this one. Like most, I had heard of it and have a vague idea what the plot is.

 

 

Series: A book you previously abandoned

magicianslandThe Magician’s Land

Author: Lev Grossman

This is the third in a series. It made the cut because I just want to finish the series. I enjoyed the other two books, but didn’t love them. They are darker than most magic/fairy-tale books I read. I do appreciate the difference, but it’s not something I’m drawn to.

 

Series: A book you own but have never read

usesofenchantmentThe Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

Author: Bruno Bettelheim

I love fairy tales and magic so I bought this because of the title and never read it. I’m looking forward to carving out space for this one this year.

 

 

Series: A book that intimidates you

warandpeaceWar and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

I started this book years ago…and got bogged down. It’s been sitting on my bookcase waiting for me to come back to it. I loved Anna Karenina and desperately want to add this to my repertoire (it’s a pride thing, for sure…how many people have read this one?) but I’m also sacred of it. It’s a thick, involved story set in a culture and time from which I am far removed.

Series: A book you’ve read at least once

poisonwoodThe Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

I might be most excited to revisit this one. I read this when I was still in high school. I didn’t like it. I was too young and immature in my faith to appreciate how true these types of stories are…how often in our pride and arrogance we hurt the ones we claim to love. Slightly older (and maybe wiser), I’m looking forward to reading her words and letting this story unravel and sitting in the tension. Even though I didn’t “like” it fifteen years ago, this is I story I haven’t been able to forget.

What’s on your TBR list for 2016? Have any other recommendations for me? And hop over to Anne’s blog to get her printable and to sign up for the challenge.

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