25 April 2014
Cephalopod Coffeehouse book review: Americanah
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.
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