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Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Rant on Representation of African Immigration Experience in Literature

After reading Amy's Misrepresentations in Literature, if you have not, please click here and here, I decided  to write about the representation of the African Immigration Experience in contemporary African Literature. Perhaps, it is because I read "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie right after reading "We Need New Names" by Noviolet Bulawayo. Both of which, have African characters who were struggling to survive and fit in the American culture. Taking on jobs they dreamt unworthy of in the U.S.A., at some point resorting to sexual encounters in order to make ends meet. As well as, trying to Americanize their accents by mimicking in front of a mirror or devouring American series on line and television. Following that, comes the feeling of disappointment, self-loss, cultural clash, depression maybe? And, finally, a new being would be born. It is all just so clichéd. Do not get me wrong, the novels were extremely engaging, page-turners  that I wholeheartedly recommend.

However, my question is, is there a single (African) immigrant experience? U.K and U.S.A are always in the spotlight, and making it seem like they are the only countries Africans emigrate to and as if we all go through the same settling in process. Hence, assuming that there is only one (African) immigrant experience. I know fully well it (African immigration in U.K and U.S.A) is a fact , and I am in no way trying to dismiss nor downplay its existence and importance. I am simply stating that the (African) immigration is a uni-personal experience and should neither be generalized nor stereotyped. The only similarity is the fact that each person involved in the process left their home country to settle in another; which in time, might end up becoming theirs or not. The rest is highly individualistic and will continue to surprise us.

What is your opinion about this topic?

17 comments:

  1. I'm an African immigrant living in the UK and I can say that my experience isn't like what's written in some of those novels. :)

    Kiru
    Kiru Taye Writes

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    1. Hi Kiru,
      Tell me that.. I can imagine.

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  2. This is interesting. I've sometimes found that its easier to find books about people emigrating from countries than it is to find books about people living in them. All of the books that I've read for Caribbean countries so far have main characters that emigrate to the U.S. or U.K. While I'm interested in reading books about emigration, I don't want that to represent all of my reading!

    (I did recently come across a novel about an Eritrean who emigrated to Saudi Arabia- The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia. So there's one that isn't US/UK anyway)

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    1. Hi,
      It is like we are some how connected my order of "The Consequences of Love" Just arrived, I look forward to reading it. I guessed it gonna be a breath of fresh air.
      You are spot on. Most of characters in The African literature I have read so far also have characters emigrating. I am sure that if it is written about, I guess it is because it actually needs to be taken into consideration. However, as you said, I hope they would not represent all of my reading too. I am as well interested in reading about Africans staying put in their country of origin.

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    2. That's funny about The Consequences of Love!

      I think a big part of the reason that immigration is written about so much is that people who emigrate have much easier access to publication in Europe or the U.S., so we are more likely to hear their stories.

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  3. Hi Mary. You've hit it right. There was a time when I felt that if I should read any book on this subject I would collapse. But then I have read several of them. Not that I want to, but that is what is out there. There are also several short stories written in this format. It looks like every African immigrant writer wants to write at least one of these stories. I can count the number I've read. From Brian Chikwava's Harare North to Chimamanda's Americanah; again, not that they are not interesting but they have gradually come to define the immigrant experience.

    On the other hand, I see you've rated Americanah five stars. That's amazing (to me)! You think it is better or just like HOAYS? Or PH? LOL. No argument on this. I have not read We Need New Names but I am not eager to. I have not been eager to read it since I heard of it.

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    1. LOL.. luckily you did not collapse, hopefully, I won't either.

      Yes, Nana, I rated it 5 stars, I'd wait for you to read my review first and see why, LOL. I know.. you also said you were not eager to read Americanah and you ended up reading it. "We Need Names" was an interesting read, you would enjoy it, even though, it's clichéd too.

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    2. With respect to NoViolet's book there is a peculiar reason I am not eager to read. Not just the repetition.

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    3. Really?, will you tell us? I would like to know.

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  4. This is an interesting subject and relates to one I had on my You Tube channel about White authors writing about the Black Experience. A single story is something I think needs to be looked into very carefully. I read Americanah and loved it. Gave it 5 stars s well and I read We Need New Names and gave it 4 stars. When I read those novels I never once tried to lump them together as a single story of immigration. They both contained there degrees of realism but were basically two different stories. I felt they were a few pieces to a giant puzzle. Although I've always thought that when we as readers finish a book, that we should ask ourselves quite a lot of questions, not just did I like it. One common question I find myself trying to answer is "Who was that book written for?" "What audience is is trying to speak too?" I think is appears that immigrant stories or getting lumped together but I think it's just the popular subject to write about. Basically, it sells.

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    1. Hi Didi,
      so did I, 5 stars for Americanah and 4 for We need new Names. Yeah, you are making a point here, Who were those book written for?, that's hard to answer though.
      Absolutely, you are right, they are 2 different stories, however, there were similar scenes of American accent practice because no one seem to uderstand their (the characterrs: Ifem, Darling's aunt) English, or they thought that their English was not good enough because it did not sound American.

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  5. I've never been outside my country but I dare say that these immigrations stories are individual in nature though they may have some similarities. Personally I think Chimamanda overdid the racist issue in her novel. but then I've also not experienced racism beofre!

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    1. LOL.. lucky you! I am happy you never experience racism. I hope you never get to. it is not an experience to look forward to. In that case, Adichie, believe me, was not overdoing it. It is even more than that in reality. I absolutely enjoyed her novel.

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  6. I think that writers will always kean towards their experience or that which they know? I suppose this is why there are so many such (UK/US) immigrant experience books out there. I think it is also told from perspectives which will appeal most to the audience for which it is written? So perhaps there is need for writers who have had varied immigration experiences (or none at all for that matter) to step up and share their stories to give a new perspective on the matter. I really enjoyed Americanah, but now I think I will order mine as well as see how the Eritrean fares in Saudi Arabia

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    1. Spot-on. Yes, we need new and different perspective on the matter. I enjoyed Americanah too.. Still have to publish my review though.

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  7. Thanks Mary for your article it´s really interesting. In the end there is the idea about Chimamanda told us in her "the dangerous of the singer story". If you see the list of authors that we (we= not African people) are reading the most of writings are done by people whose life has spent in the foreign (Europe, America). I wrote about this in my blog, about Afropolitanism for example (http://literafrica.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/afropolitanismo-el-riesgo-de-caer-en-la-historia-unica/).
    And in the last time, Dan Ojwang talked about the danger of African writing blurs into 'world' literature (http://mg.co.za/article/2014-04-03-african-writing-blurs-into-world-literature) He said: "This dilemma – writing about Africa without living in it – makes these novels accessible to non-African readers, but also, unfortunately, contorts the continent's past and present"
    Americanah is one of the faces of the inmigrant but it´s not the only one, and I think that It´s not the most commun. Inmigration has a lot of faces, a lot of narratives:"Paisaje de lágrimas" A.Waberi, "Los pies sucios" Edem Awuney, "Más allá del horizonte" Amma Darko... but the danger it´s to focus in only one narrative. Thanks

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    1. Hola Sonia,
      he tomado nota, espero leer estos libros que has citado, me gustaría leer sobre otra experiencia de inmigración. Queremos, leer para aprender cosas nuevas y no lo mismo de siempre.
      Gracias por el comentario.

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