Americanah - Chimananda Adiche {book review}

I just finished Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, and it was like seeing my own experiences in a fun house mirror.

Adiche's protagonist, Ifemelu, is a Nigerian immigrant who moves to the United States to complete undergrad. The other main character, Obinze, is her boyfriend in Nigeria from High School and University, and he goes to the UK. In Ifem's telling of her story, she relates observations about race in America (a subject on which she has a blog), but more strikingly, she relates the evolution of her relationships with Nigerians here and back in Nigeria when she chooses to return.

She recounts how her experience of blackness is unique to the United States; in Nigeria, her blackness did not matter in the way it did in the States.

It's different for me, perhaps because I grew up here entirely, rather than immigrating later in life. I do not have that experience of my race not mattering somewhere. In India, I am "American" - an intangible quality that seems to glimmer just beneath my skin. I'm sure part of it is my accented Kannada (try as I might, the accent never goes away entirely) but sometimes people know where I'm from without my having to open my mouth. There is this feeling, when I'm in India, of not being "Indian enough."

Here, of course, the opposite is true. I am Indian even when I do not want to be, or when I am not able to be. I am Indian when we study India briefly in class; I was the student tasked with pronouncing Sid-dhar-ta Gau-ta-ma for the edification of my teacher (I later found out that I had pronounced it wrong - I was 11 then, and I can still feel the sting of embarrassment now). I was Indian when I sat in the cafeteria with food colored with turmeric, scented of spices from the subcontinent. I am Indian on my job applications, and I am extremely Indian when someone peers at my skin and hair, and queries "but where are you from, REALLY?"

Despite this difference, however, the way she relates relationships between those who leave and those who stay, and those who succeed, and those who do not, is striking in its clarity. While the asides from her blog, Raceteenth, often struck me as being unnecessary, or mere reflections of conversations that have already occurred, the heart of the novel manages to transcend these blurbs.

Re: Reading

I used to describe myself as a "reader" - as the end of the semester approached, however, I was forced to concede that I was, in fact, a has-been. I strive now to be the opposite of a person in remission from addiction - I am returning to the addiction from whence I sprung.

When I was younger, I devoted considerable amounts of leisure time to novels. I read everything I could get my hands on, losing large swathes of time in fantasy realms and distant lands. I was the child reading at recess, the one with a novel secreted under her desk during math class, the one who never noticed that a poor five year old boy wanted to play with her because she was busy being Jo March. There was a period of time - lasting three or four months - where every morning, I would arrive at middle school early, and check one book out of the library. I would return the following morning to return that book, and check out a new one. This is how I read everything Tamora Pierce had ever written in under a semester.

During high school, my reading was split between smutty novels (I've forgotten the titles and authors, although certain descriptive passages remain emblazoned in my mind's eye), smutty and otherwise fanfiction (same parenthetical note applies), fantasy and realistic fiction, and "serious fiction." This last category caused me to take up Ivanhoe as a ninth grader, and read Beloved as a junior. I remember nothing about the former, and to this day, am not even certain that I actually finished it, although I certainly wrote a report on it. The latter remains in the annals of books that flipped my life upside down.

In college, books were relegated to the times when I needed an escape, or had vacation time. I'd say I probably read five to ten books a semester, if that. In addition, while I have always re-read books I enjoyed, that habit was particularly pronounced in undergrad where, like most not-quite-adults, I was drowning in melancholy and nostalgia all the time. For every new book I read during that time, I probably re-read two to three old books. In the year after I graduated, when I gap year-d, I read numerous memoirs and multiple novels, but for the most part what I really did was re-read Harry Potter, backwards and forwards. Twice.

Then along came law school, and that was that. I have been racking my brain for the novels I read this year, and drawing a blank. I know I read Aziz Ansari's book, Mindy Kaling's memoir, Cara Nicoletti's food memoir, David Byrne's memoir, and a history of Henry the Eighth's wives. I read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, which is a poetry anthology. I briefly perused a book that contained the complete works of Salvador Dali, and began reading his memoir (I did not finish it, although if you ever meet me IRL, I'll certainly pretend to have done so). And there ends the list. I'm certain I read a novel in there somewhere, but I could not tell you where or what. I remember a brief foray into the local library, where I got two novels - I remember reading one and not the other, and amassing quite a fine before I returned them. I have still not paid the fine, and have no recollection of the books themselves.

When the summer started, after months of drudgery and insecurity, I chose to mire myself in novels. I started with Station Eleven, then took up the Neopolitan Novels (I have yet to read the fourth, although it is on my shelf), and then I began to read everything I could get my hands on.

So that's where I am now. This is what it feels like to breathe freely after an eternity underwater.

January: Dark Times

This January has been less than ideal. While I've been keeping my spirits up and generally attempting to remain positive and stress free, just one month into the semester things already seem to be going insane. The first week of classes started with the career center reminding us that it was time to start our internship searches for the upcoming summer. Within just four weeks, the semester has become a maelstrom of applications, readings, paper deadlines, and optional skills competitions that I chose to do (still not sure why).

In addition to this, a rogue snowstorm basically shut down D.C. last weekend, and I haven't been biking to class since then. In the absence of regular physical activity, I've become a neurotic mess.

January has also had it's good points. A rogue snowstorm basically shut down D.C. last weekend, providing an excellent day of sledding and tea. I live in a community house that's been very sweet and accommodating of my preoccupation and stress, and I've had weekly cooking sessions for cookinginpjs.com to keep me sane. I have made quite a lot of pie crust, and while it's not perfect quite yet, it's pretty delicious.

I've been obsessed with two songs this month: 1.) Dark Times, by Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd, and 2.) Yoga, by Janelle Monae

Honorable mentions go to everything else Ed Sheeran has ever produced, Hoodie Allen's acoustic album, the complete works of Jidenna, and Frank Waln.

I've applied to a number of internships, and am working slowly but surely on Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne. David also happens to be a musician, and one of the founding members of the Talking Heads, whose music I had not previously heard. I'd give it a solid A-.

I watched The Great British Baking Show, which was as amazing as every single word in that title would indicate. Loved every minute of it, and found myself taking notes on baking techniques to try sometime when I'm not swapped with deadlines!

I think the biggest struggle with law school can be retaining the things that you enjoy but that don't really contribute to your law school performance. It can be difficult to retain those vestiges of yourself, especially because school itself is SO overwhelming. It often feels like the seconds are sprinting by, and it can be difficult to maintain your sense of self within the hubbub.

I'm still trying to find that balance for myself, and January was a swing and a miss in that regard. But hey - that's what February's for!

Law School and Indian Food

It's the night before my second semester of law school! It would seem as though I should know what's going on, but alas, I do not. Tomorrow will start fresh with some new classes, Property and Constitutional Law, and while I have some background in Constitutional Law, I've none whatsoever in Property. I don't even have any particular interest in property, and I don't forsee that changing, although obviously I'd like to be proven wrong on this point.

My vacation was stuffed to the hilt with visits with friends many of whom I hadn't seen in five months or more, The Beatles (thank you, Spotify), and food. I've always liked food, and I've been cooking for a while now, but I have a tendency to shift from idea to idea quickly, and rarely make the same thing twice. I've made food with Middle Eastern, Mexican, and "Asian" influences, but I've been terrified to touch Indian food. I spent my childhood eating my mother's cooking, which is incredible, and there was always a vague fear that the food I cooked for myself would always pale in comparison. It's the same reason I rarely go to Indian restaurants; I'm usually disappointed by food that sounds familiar, but doesn't have the same "cay ruchi" or unique flavor, as my mother's.

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This vacation, I decided that it was time to learn the food of my ancestors, and spent several days quizzing my mom about Indian food, and taking copious notes. I've got a number of recipes and ideas now, and part of me wishes that this vacation could last longer so that I could try them all out, and learn more while I'm at it.

But vacation is never quite long enough for all the things I want to do, and part of my is excited to start the new semester (check in next week when I regret every part of this sentence).

See ya never, 2015

2015 brought 20 new posts to my corner of the internet, averaging out to 1 every 2.5 weeks or so. Pretty much my only goal for 2016 is to exceed that, and write more.

I spent the first half of this year in India, trying to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I learned about the difficulties of recovering from a knee replacement surgery, and that sometimes the only way to stop a tantrum-ing toddler is to hug them close. I learned more than I ever expected to about the laws governing auto drivers, and trying to figure out where the overlap was between autos and taxis. I found the ocean after a long separation and decided I never wanted to leave. I read the entire Harry Potter series twice, backwards then forwards. I smelled Eucalyptus is the air and decided to move into a mountain hut. I realized that as much as I like to see new places and new things, the buildings aren't the bits you remember - you remember the way you felt, and people you met. My brother graduated from high school, and started going to school at Kettering, and it was exciting and surreal. I kept remembering the baby who used to upstage me just be rolling over. I spent a month in Europe with my brother, and loved everything. This has also been the year we watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together. Three times. I spent a whirlwind two weeks at home. I started law school! And moved to DC! I I spent four months studying. I also learned to make vegan cinnamon rolls from scratch, and started biking a lot. I didn't explore the city as much as I wanted to, but that's just a goal for the upcoming year.

It's been a pretty good year, and I don't have any particular expectations for 2016 to be "bigger" or "better." But I am excited to meet it, and find my next adventures.

Today I'm spending a low key New Year's Eve with the family, idly judging celebrities and eating my weight in Indian food. It's exactly the type of party that suits me right now, and I am so thankful for my little corner of this universe. I can only hope that 2016 comes in as gleefully as 2015 is being ushered out.

Happy New Year :)