Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Toward a broader view of Africa
As a student in the U.S. for the last decade, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has received a new perspective on her native Nigeria. It is not a point of view that she likes or agrees with, but one she finds pervasive.”What bothers me is that Africa is seen solely as a place needing help,” said the 30-year-old from her home in Connecticut, where she is doing graduate work in the African Studies program at Yale. “When we talk about poverty, illness and war, we speak about Africa in a way that we don’t speak about other countries.”Adichie, whose father was a statistics professor and deputy vice chancellor at the University of Nigeria, is doing her share to broaden the outsider’s view of the continent. In her second novel, last year’s “Half of a Yellow Sun,” the Nigeria of the ’60s is populated with intellectuals and servants, businessmen (and businesswomen) and expatriates in love with Nigerian culture. It is set amid a sea of troubles; the story takes place around the Biafran region’s war of independence. Along with the fighting, however, are romance, petty family squabbles, sex and the divide between village traditions and the modern world.
Of most importance to Adichie, the novel represents the full spectrum of Nigerian society, from the ambitious servant to the entrenched elites. The war is prominent, but more so is the war’s effect on different segments of Nigerians. “I’m interested in class, and how that plays out in Nigeria,” she said. “How much dignity is given, how much humanity is allowed, based on class. It’s very easy to look down on houseboys – but I reject that. It’s as easy to have humanity for a houseboy as it is for the master.””Half of a Yellow Sun” is opening eyes internationally to the writer’s take on her country. Earlier this month, Adichie earned the Orange Prize for Fiction, a prestigious U.K. award given annually to a female author writing in English.
Adichie is wary of the recent wave of attention given to Africa. She fears it is a fad that will pass; further, she feels an air of condescension in the offers of aid. “In Africa, we often get lectured,” she observed.From inside her country, the experience is different. “If I knew Africa only from what I see on TV, I’d think all Africans are starving,” she said. “The Nigeria I see – and this is not to be dismissive of problems – is not preoccupied with how terrible things are.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie appears at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival. She will participate in the “Introducing Africa” talk, Monday, June 25, at 6 p.m.; and the Author Conversation, “The Next Generation,” Wednesday, June 27, at 6 p.m.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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