the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area

mostly the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also the home of the Counting Actors Project

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Three novels I read this summer that you should read too

A common thread in all three of these books is that while significant portions of each book take place in the US, none of the protagonists are US born, so each of these books examines American culture from an outsider perspective. Each book stands on its own, but taken together, they add up to a fascinating look at the similarities and differences in the challenges that face contemporary immigrant women.

1) We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo - When we first meet Darling, she's 10 years old and living in Zimbabwe.  The early sections of this book do that thing I love where a child or young person describes what they're observing in the world around them, but that they don't fully comprehend yet as an adult reader, I have more context for the things that the character is describing.  I love that!  Later in the book, Darling comes to the US and lives in Detroit, experiencing her teen years and immigrant assimilation simultaneously.  I found this book incredibly moving, especially the chapter where she describes what it's like to have to speak in English when it's not your first language.

2) The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Domincyzk gives us three women - one who immigrated to the US as a child, then went back to Poland for summers; one who came to the US as an adult; and one who didn't leave Poland.  All three lives intertwine as the story moves both back and forth in time, and back and forth between  Brooklyn and Kielce, Poland.  Another great insight into a life that straddles two cultures.   I was fascinated with the Polish custom of using different versions of a child's name.  I'll admit that I still don't understand it completely, but I loved that the author didn't make it easy.  Warning: this book will make you want to eat pierogies!  I was lucky that I already had some in my freezer.

3) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie - Ifemelu, the protagonist in this book, leaves Nigeria for the US as a college student.  It is a heady look at race relations in the US  (Ifemelu blogs about the experiences and observations of a 'non-American black').   Obinze, Ifemelu's high school boyfriend. is present throughout the book as well.  We see both of these characters in contemporary Lagos and Princeton, as well as in flashbacks to student days.  Again, lots of new perspective and insights in different cultural experiences for me - the hair braiding that takes place at the beginning of the book is a strong example of this.

I really enjoyed reading all three of these novels, and together they made a powerful triptych that gave me a lot to think about in terms of privilege and experience of outsiders in a new culture.  A bonus - these three books describe their non-American locales so strongly and specifically, it was like I took trips to Zimbabwe, Poland and Nigeria!

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