books

Americanah & Jane Eyre

Do you like wine? My brother loves his wine and enjoys pairing wines with food. I prefer pairing books. (Books, wine and food might be even better.)

Recently I read an old favorite simultaneously with a new favorite, and the juxtaposition illumined both for me. Bear with me here.

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells a very specific story that spills over with truths for many other stories. It is the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who comes to the US for college. Jane Eyre, published 165 years earlier, asks many of the same questions: where does marriage fit into identity? What is the value- and the price- of independence?

Ifemelu writes about race in America as an outside observer. Her observations are keen and her voice is wry. I would have easily read another 500 pages in her voice, though she describes things from the outside.

Jane Eyre is written from a very intimate perspective. While her lens in focused on a very narrow field, she is equally observant of her own heart. Race is used as an appalling weapon in Jane Eyre (and perhaps should bear a trigger warning, despite being required readng in many English classes.) The questions posed by race in this book are no less pressing than those of Americanah even for being 165 years old. Both touch on mental health as well. I look forward to exploring the contrasts and similarities of these with my AP English Lit class this year.

The key question for me in both books was how a woman holds her identity in the context of relationships. An older woman counsels Ifemelu to wait to enter a sexual relationship “until you own yourself a little more.” The process of owning oneself is the subject of both these novels, and reading them together was fascinating.

What wine you would pair with this duet?

One thought on “Americanah & Jane Eyre

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