Reub's journey

25 April 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse book review: Americanah

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was somewhere on the "to read" list when my daughter  suggested that I pretend to look at it like a screenwriter might. So, boom, just like that I decided to read it because I'll never ever have another chance for input on a film, even if it's an imaginary film. Fun! As I made my way through this tale of love, race, and adopted countries, I constantly pictured it as a movie. What could be left out? What has to stay? It turns out to be an interesting reader's strategy.

The story revolves around a Nigerian couple, friends from school, who find themselves worlds apart when Ifemelu goes to college in the US and Obinze ends up illegally in England. While she struggles but thrives in Princeton, he is arrested and deported as an undocumented alien in the UK. Eventually Ifemelu also returns to Nigeria to find Obinze dutifully married and caught up in lucrative real estate deals. The book covers three nations and a decade of political change, including the election of America's first black president. It describes the difference between "African Americans" and "American Africans," it examines bi-racial couples, liberal hypocrisy, and the uneasy relationship between non-whites. It looks critically at the country Nigeria has become. It is a really good read.



Here are points/opinions that a screenwriter might consider:

1. Ifem is the main character, but The Zed's story is stunning too. There are two parallel stories, but Obinze's was more weakly portrayed in the book & would have to be beefed up in a film.

2. I like the blog entries and think it gives structure. I pictured these like similar scenes in BBC's latest Sherlock series (you now what I'm talkin' about: Benedict Cumberbatch's version of course). But sometimes those entries tend to preachiness so I guess you'd want to be careful. 

3. Dike! (Ifem's charming nephew who grows up in the US) I don't think the film should show him going to Nigeria. That really fell flat in the book & would be worse in the movie. 

4. This is a story about relationships between couples, and between countries both native and adopted. The scenes in the hairdressers' shops were very telling & gave unity to the story. 

5. Author Adichie spared no one. Not the liberals who were drenched in cringe-worthy self-admiration, and also had (mostly) bratty kids with no manners. Not the academics, who were pretentious and blind. Not African Americans, whose response to Africans was unsupportive. Not the relatives, whose expectations were stifling. Not other Africans, who were (mostly) hustling to make it on their own. Not the blue collar Americans, who could not see Ifem as belonging to a class above them. All were imperfect. 

6. The writing is not without humor. Never forget the light touch, the line that makes you smile.

7. Ifemelu and Obinze do the best that they can to stay afloat in a shifting and treacherous world. In the end they're still doing their best to resolve matters of love and commitment, even though their solution is also, inevitably, imperfect but right.

8.When one finishes a thought-provoking book it provokes thoughts, like it should. So, one final thought is:  the book transcends race. It is also about just...you know...people?  I would keep that in mind if I were writing a screenplay. I would include Shan, Blaine's sister, if you want to transcend race. Shan's self-concern is non-race-specific. She comes and goes in the story, but she's recognizable across-culture.

Will I imagine every book I read from now on as a movie? To some extent, yes. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad one.
 
Up for more book reviews? Visit The Armchair Squid to read or participate.

29 comments:

  1. A lot of times I "see" the book as a movie in my head, reading or writing. I think that's why the movies disappoint me so much of the time.

    Great review! Will definitely look for this book!

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    1. I haven't written books-as you have-but some books I find extremely cinematic as I read them, others not so much.

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  2. A novel about global society in the 21st century - sounds great. How cool that you were able to engage with a screenwriter on the book!

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  3. Wow! You should be a fulltime movie consultant. I am sure that he appreciated your input.

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    1. Wouldn't that be a fun job? Yeah. But adapting books is tough.

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  4. I, too, visualize the story as I read it, so I get a real sense of the setting and characters. This book sounds so interesting! I can only imagine that 'coming to America' awe, and how, likely, the reality was less than the dream.

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    1. Immigrants from places like Nigeria are struck with a rather brutal reality, that's for sure.

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  5. This sounds familiar. Either I've read it or downloaded a sample at some point. I must investigat :)

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    1. Haha! I have umpteen samples that I've forgotten about too.

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  6. Sounds a great book. I haven't read many books that I can 'see' as a film. Great points for the potential scriptwriter to look out for.

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    1. Sally I do recommend this book. If they make a movie, I hope it's a good one.

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  7. It's a real pleasure to read a good review of a book I actually read! It's also very cool that you're having some input/impact on the screenplay. I hope that project makes it to fruition.

    I was thinking the blog sections would have to be left out of a film, but perhaps the most vital observations there could be done by a voice-over while Ifem is getting her hair done: this process sounds incredibly time consuming so this would be a way to evoke that while still getting across some of Ifem's insights.

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    1. Thanks Stephanie. I look to you as a model for writing reviews; you're very good at it.

      I like your suggestion regarding the voice-overs. That could be really effective!

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    1. Gotta come by & check out your reading list soon. You always have something for me.

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  9. I just love the second cover!

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    1. Me too. That was published in the UK.

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  10. Love your review! Nice take on how the book would work as a film. Let's see what happens one day with it!

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    1. Yes, we'll see, we'll see. There are people working on it.

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  11. have you read Let the Great World Spin? It is episodic and I can't get it out of my head...
    your current review has sent me to reserve at the library :)

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    1. Yes! That is a terrific book. A favorite.

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  12. OMG you knocked this review right out of the park! LOL my review of your review is 5-stars, you have convinced me to read this book! :)

    I'm totally going to try this screenplay approach from now on...

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    1. Thanks!!!!!! I actually just got asked to cut some key (but apparently secret)stuff outta this review, and was worried that it left me with a lame piece of writing. So I'm glad you liked it.

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  13. Sensitive, thought-provoking, but also funny at times. A great insight into the experience of immigration - whether from Africa, Asia or anywhere else. And probably the best contemporary book on race, making it a far more complex and important issue than we think it is.
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    1. Well, there ya go. I could just have said that and spared myself everything. You nailed it.

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  14. I like the whole concept of imagining the book as a movie, I will try it on what I read next.

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