Her 2014 European book reading tour took Chimamanda Ngozie Edochie, the author of the internationally acclaimed and yet-to-reach-its-peak novel “AMERICANAH, to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne on the 13th of May.
The evening which dragged on in the beginning with delay of some minutes, steadily picked up pace as we queued up in front of the door of the hall and noticed that there was a “crowd” anxiously waiting to attend the event. Needless to say it was rumored at the doorsteps of the event, that all tickets for were sold out within 24 hours. Well, we were lucky to have procured one of those coveted tickets early (thanks to some friends). Standing there in front of the door with some other Cameroonians, Nigerians and Kenyans, our anticipation grew as we realized that we were flunked by over a hundred of Germans, and we wanted, no… we needed to get the best seats. Fate smiled on us because as soon as the door flew open, we literally pressed our way forward, scurried to the front of the hall, and shamelessly flung our belongings and garments on the seats in the first three rows to secure seats for ourselves and friends who had the ill luck to find themselves at the tail of the queue. The room filled up quickly and with it almost bursting out of its seams some people had to sit on the floor. We were lucky because we kept our African corner, unabashedly refusing to relinquish our seats. Clutching assorted copies of “Americanah” we held our breaths and waited anxiously for our “Star” of the evening.
And then she sauntered unto the podium, amid uproarious applause from our African corner, which drowned the polite applause of the Germans in the hall. Chimamanda was delighted to see us, oh yeah she was, it was written all over her face. And I just couldn’t help myself, as soon as the applause died down, I exclaimed “dia is God oh!!”. A statement which evoked more laughter and Chimamanda’s first words of the evening “chai chai…Na only you waka come!” much to our delight and to the consternation of the those present, not privy to this private joke. And this literally broke the ice. The evening encompassed three readings, one in English from Chimamanda and two in German from an accompanying narrator, interspersed with questions from the organizer. It culminated in a question-and-answer session and ended in a meet-and-sign session.
Clad in a beautiful yellow outfit, and a black and white long jacket, and to-die-for black sandals with spectacular heels (I almost asked her where she got them!), Chimamanda exuded an aura which bespoke what she writes about in her novel “Americanah”: a modern and sophisticated but beautiful blend of Africa and the West, which works for many. Her eyes were glued to her book, even when it was read in German and she smiled and giggled from time to time at her own writings. Her gaze darted once in a while from her book to linger on one member of the crowd, with a smile in her eyes, as if to engage them in some private joke. Her charm and intelligence slithered from the podium into the hearts of some of us, and I am bold enough to conclude that no one remained impervious to her charm. Her tone remained serious but playful at the same time, when responding to questions. Without sounding schoolmarmish she proceeded to dissect every question she was asked with relish and ease, effortlessly positing her thoughts. When she joked (which she did very often that night), her eyes glinted with mischief, her simple nature belied the fact that this was an international star, whose writings have received astronomical ratings and a plethora of awards from over three continents. While signing books, she was not flustered by the crowd that thronged around her, she took time to absorb the compliments that came her way, and paid back compliments to many. “I like your hair”, “I like your accent”, “I thought you were from Ghana”, were statements which came from her, not tailor-made, but statements that proved that she is a very observant person. And those of us who already fell for her through her writings were charmed to submission.
If you don’t know yet, Chimamanda is the author of Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006),(which has been adapted into a film, released this year, starring Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA award-winner Thandie Newton), The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and Americanah (2013). She is also known for her TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story”.
Americanah: A tale for Africans
If you haven’t read Americanah, and you are a book lover, please don’t deny yourself the pleasure of this witty, deep, romantic but at the same time truthful novel. Chimamanda succeeds in dicing racial as well societal (Nigerian) stereotypes in an honest and succinct way, and allays the risks of her romantic novel remaining just a romantic novel. She brings so many topics that all African immigrants (I dare say world over) secretly grumble about to the limelight: you identify yourself with Ifemelu, all she goes through, the things she complains about, her evolution in America and her return to Nigeria. She talks of hair, and not just hair, but about that kinky nappy African hair, she talks of education, of immigration and the toll it takes on individuals, the many layers of identity, and of course of love. This book is a must-read!.
Talking about immigration: She said she believes that Africa needs the diaspora, because those in the diaspora educate the world about their different origins and they bring those aspects they learn abroad back home. But those in the diaspora should dispel the thought that they can change Africa.
On hair: yes, an evolution in the way we define beauty is needed. Beauty seems to have a singular definition (sleek hair, blond, blue eye). Our Afro hair, dreadlocks, braids and so on is not incorporated herein.
On Africans abroad: The current wave of immigration is not caused by Africans fleeing from war, poverty or starvation, but is caused by Africans who dare to have a dream.
On Germany and racism: she expressed dismay at the fact that Germans do not talk about race. How do you solve problems revolving around race if you do not talk about it?
Affaire à suivre?
At the risk of sounding like a tout let me say this: Chimamanda is a great writer, a prolific African writer. Reading her books feels like reading the things I am dreaming of writing about. She leaves me begging for more (and I told her that much). Meeting her in person was an experience I am dying to relive. I forgot my age, I forgot I was a mother, I forgot my manners, I felt drawn to her, watching her like a child watches a candy she can’t have. And her riveting, easy-going, down-to-earth and friendly personality simply adds an inveigling glow to her literature. And did I mention beautiful? Oh yes, she is all that. If you love her books and you ever have the opportunity to meet her in person, grab it between your teeth and you won’t regret it. In person, Chimamanda Ngozie Adochie is the real deal, and if her current works are anything to go by, she is the future of African Literature.