It’s been a few months since I read this book and I have slacked on keeping notes or writing about what I’ve read soon after reading it. All I have are some quotes I took pictures of (I was too lazy to write them down and I don’t own the book). I decided against looking at any reviews or summaries as I don’t want to be influenced. In fact, I generally do not read reviews until after I jot down my own thoughts.
The story takes place in Nigeria during their civil war when Biafra was trying to take over. There was tension between the Yoruba and Igbo tribes and many lost their lives in the conflict. The story follows several characters during this time and their stories intersect each other for the entire book. One of these characters is Richard, an expatriate who begins to write a book about the conflict. At the end of the story he reveals that he gave up on that book as it was not his story to tell. I thought that this was such a powerful statement. And one that white people need to take heed. Too often we see white characters portrayed as knights that somehow rescue people of color. This character addresses that. It subverts that too common narrative and sets it right.
I had many favorite scenes but I especially loved the part where Richard gets called out when he states his surprise at Igbo-Ukwu bronzes: “It is quite incredible that these people had perfected the complicated art of lost-wax casting during the time of the Viking Raids.” he says.
When he goes home to his girlfriend Kainene (who is Nigerian and black) he immediately makes the interaction about his feelings. This is a great example of white fragility:
“I do love the art. It was horrible of him to accuse me of disrespect.”
I couldn’t help but notice how he doesn’t even try to see how his statement was telling of his bias that African culture was far too primitive to accomplish such art. He only thinks of his hurt feelings and how he truly does love the art. This brings to mind the recent comments that Kelly Osborne made when she asked Donald Trump who would clean his toilets if he were to get rid of the immigrants. She immediately got in her feelings stating how she is not a racist! But you see, the thing is that you don’t have to be consciously racist in order to hold and express all manner of fucked up biases. That’s a fact and this scene from the book is a good example of it.
Kainene responds: “And it is wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.”
I thought her comment was perfect and it applies to real world issues. Many times we see people appropriating a culture under the guise of loving it but if we look closer we see the condescension and contempt held for that very culture they claim to love.
Going into this I had very limited knowledge of Nigerian history. Adichie writes a compelling story that kept me interested and invested throughout. She is currently one of my favorite authors and I don’t see this changing any time soon.