Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2014

Baileys logoThings are a little busy in this part of my world currently, but I have just seen the announcement of the shortlist of the Baileys Women’s Prize and given the result, I don’t feel so bad about not having yet written reviews of two novels that were on the longlist, that I recently read.

They were Fatima Bhutto’s The Shadow of the Crescent Moon and Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing. I am sorry to say that I did not enjoy either of them.

But on to the shortlist!

The six novels chosen are:

Americanah (2)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – my review here

A story of love and reflections on race via a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home and on their return.

Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

10-year-old Theo steals a painting from an Amsterdam gallery after his mother dies.

Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Two Bengali brothers growing up in 1960s Calcutta.

burial rites

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent

A woman is condemned to death in Iceland,  inspired by true events.

Girl Half

A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

 Experimental novel written in the second-person, “you” being the narrator’s fiercely loved, brain-damaged brother.

Undertaking

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

A marriage marked by cruelty and violence, a husband who spends nights hurting Jewish children and comes home to a wife who never asks questions.

***

Very happy indeed to see Americanah on the list and although it is the only one I have read, I have been championing this title since it came out last year.

I will definitely be reading The Goldfinch, though probably not until August as I am saving it for my summer chunkster beach read and I am sure it be perfect for that.  I think i will have to track down Burial Rites next, I have been talking about this Icelandic novel for too long without having read a page!

 

So which one of these appeals to you to read next?

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My big fat summer read and it was just what I like, to get lost within pages that will attempt to navigate the slightly messy lives of flawed characters that feel like they could be real. And most of them here come close to attaining that reality.

Americanah (2)Ifemula and Obinze are university sweethearts who slip into a relationship that seems to have it all, though they have yet to conquer the career survival path of their simple lives thus they are separated in Nigeria during their studies and then by the continents of  North America and Europe as they try to establish their careers. Hardship is the one thing they seem not able to share and it drives them apart like the distance of the ocean that separates them, spanning a distance they seem unable to traverse.

Just as many young people have been doing so and continue to today, they eventually return to their home country and their roots and will re encounter each other.  Although they find their way home, will  they be able to ignore those untravelled waters they did not share? This is one of the themes the book explores.

“Somewhere in a faraway part of her mind, she wanted to lose weight before she saw Obinze again. She had not called him; she would wait until she was back to her slender self.”

I loved the book for many reasons, firstly because I remember reading and enjoying her first book Purple Hibiscus, enhanced by seeing her speak in person at a Readers Festival in Auckland where she talked about the next book she was planning to write, about a subject few at the time seemed to want to talk about – the Biafran War – that research and effort to understand a chapter in Nigerian history manifested in her Orange prize-winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which has since been made into a film (not yet released). Since then I have looked forward to reading her other work and interviews, as she is more than just a writer of stories.

Secondly, having a good friend from Nigeria, who made the move back after a similar number of years living abroad, who did so successfully and visiting there, participating in her marriage ceremony makes me even more curious to read the work of those who have attempted the same. There is something universal about the experience and yet unique at the same time.

Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie easily engages an audience with her observations, insights and view of the world and with Americanah it is as if she sends out another version of herself, Ifemulu, a young woman who grows up in urban Nigeria and through her studies has an opportunity to live, work and study in America.

Ifemulu’s disappointments distance her from her closest relationship because she doesn’t share them. In an effort to be heard she writes an anonymous blog and shares her experiences and observations both in America and again on her initial return to Nigeria.

She tries to remain an impartial observer, though those who know she is the author challenge her and she discovers that life often finds a way to throw at us, that which we condemn in others. But therein the greatest lessons lie and Ifemulu will do much soul-searching on her journey to fulfillment. The blog posts are interesting to read and provocative and it is great to see the form being represented in a novel, and a WordPress blog at that.

In a Lagos cafe

In a Lagos cafe

For me, books whose characters cross cultures are always interesting, just as travelling in another country and witnessing the different ways people live and interact and perceive is interesting. Whilst I could never begin to know what it would be like for a young Nigerian woman to move to live in America, I enjoyed the experience of inhabiting Adichie’s imagination, viewing Ifemulu’s life and how she tries to interpret the foreign culture she and many others have long dreamed of.

My visit to Nigeria was too short to gain any real perspective about what it might be like to live there, but the challenges are undoubtedly equally great, though completely different in nature.

It doesn’t matter which country we grow up in to think of as our own, almost any other country we immigrate to or spend time living in will invoke a feeling of strangeness, of being an outsider.

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”

Twice whilst reading this novel, I felt tears well up, surprising myself at how deeply this character got under my skin, some of the burdens she carries, only gaining full recognition in the moment they are healed and those moments are powerful when they come off the page. Surprising and brilliant.

Related Reads

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay