Photographer: Ivara Esege/Knopf via Bloomberg
I’m ashamed to say that I first heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last December after purchasing Beyonce’s “surprise” visual album on iTunes. Of course, I know that I’m not alone- many people got their first glimpse of Chimamanda through the pop star’s song “Flawless”.
But I-an avid reader, a self proclaimed connoisseur of literature (holding an English degree from the University of South Carolina GO, COCKS!), and a long time academic of the fine art of poetry and prose, admittedly had never heard of the writer.
How can this be? I’ve studied Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta and countless other African writers. My home library shelves are filled with works from international authors like Colin Channer, Elie Wiesel. Thus, it takes Beyonce to introduce me to such an amazing writer.
I have fallen in love with Chimamanda. I have spent hours upon hours intently watching the plethora of YouTube videos featuring the author. I’ve sat full weekends and countless days totally engrossed in Purple Hibiscus, the authors first novel. And The Thing Around Your Neck, her second book, has caused me to neglect every aspect of my life.
Half of a Yellow Sun is the work I will conquer next. I am so very tempted to dive right into Americanah, but I’m compelled to read Chimamanda’s books in the order that they were written- to experience the full of the author’s progression as a writer.
What is it that I love about Chimamanda? (Did you notice how I call her by her first name? Yes, she’s my best friend in my head.) Th question really should be: What is there NOT to love about Chimamanda? From her hair to the unapologetic matter-of-factness with which she speaks or the absolutely beautiful textured clothing she wears-Chimamanda is a walking, breathing ball of everything wonderful! But even that description does nothing to tell us of the extraordinary awesomeness that she possesses.
In a recent interview at the Schomburg Center, Zadie Smith spoke of Chimamanda’s uncanny ability to make her characters relatable. She removes the narrator from the story so there is nothing standing in the way of the readers relationship with the character. So, THAT is what I love about Chimamanda. The people she creates are real to me. When reading her work, I become an unnoticed spectator in their lives. Following them around as if I were their shadows.
Chimamanda writes about Nigeria so beautifully. The way she captures the totality of her country is strangely remarkable. I can smell the air.
Fortunately, for us, Chimamanda gives an alternate narrative to the ones we’ve heard-the lies about Africa we’ve been exposed to. She creates a beautiful palette of middle class Nigerians and their plight in higher education mixed with a love for their ancestry and tradition. Chimamanda couples tribal religions with Catholicism. She finds an extraordinary, yet simple way to put us in the middle of Nigeria- in the center of her story. Her characters linger in my thoughts long after I’ve read the final page of the story.
This is what Chimamanda is capable of, and what many writers strive for, the ability to make the reader see what she sees- the ability to bring the reader into her mind. This, my friends, is the mark of an unprecedented writer.