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Black In America: A Story Rendered In Gray Scale
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Black In America: A Story Rendered In Gray Scale

Book Reviews

Black In America: A Story Rendered In Gray Scale
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The writer Chimamanda Adichie has long been exceeding expectations. She was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008; two years later, the New Yorker named her to its list of the best writers under the age of 40. But reviewer Rosecrans Baldwin says Adichie's newest book didn't live up to his expectations.

ROSECRANS BALDWIN, BYLINE: There are a lot of books about coming of age in America. What we don't have as many of, and what we need, are books about coming of age in America as an immigrant 'cause there are things that natives can't see, but stand out like neon to foreign eyes. In "Americanah," a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, moves to the United States for school, leaving behind her boyfriend and family.

It's a story about relocation, and about far-flung love, but it's also about being a stranger in a new culture - lonely, but at same time, privileged. If you read Adichie's previous novel, "Half of a Yellow Sun," you'll remember the electricity of her writing. That book won the Orange Prize six years ago and it's so good, I'm still pressing it on friends and strangers.

"Americanah's" first chapters, which are set mostly in Nigeria, have a similar crackle. Adichie describes a party at a rich man's house. She writes of some aspirational guests, they were wearing the uniform of the Lagos youngish and wealthyish, leather slippers, jeans and open-neck tight shirts, all with familiar designer logos, but there was, in their manner, the plowing eagerness of men in need.

After Ifemelu lands in the U.S., she becomes, among other things, a blogger. She writes funny, punchy updates about black life in America, from hairstyles to politics, but the writing falls surprisingly flat when she's experiencing life offline. We get explanations instead of action. There's discourse, but little drama.

And some weak writing does sneak through. One character is described as wearing the pashmina of the wounded. But ultimately when Ifemelu returns to Lagos, Adichie writes that, the heaps of rubbish rose on the roadsides like a taunt, commerce thrummed too defiantly. The novel's flaws aside, it's that type of evocative power that has me looking forward to her books for years to come.

SIEGEL: That was Rosecrans Baldwin. His latest book is called "Paris, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down." He reviewed the novel "Americanah" by Chimamanda Adichie.

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