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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Book Review: Chinedu Achebe's "Blunted on Reality"

I was contacted by Chinedu Achebe, a Nigerian-American author, a few months ago and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his debut novel Blunted on Reality.


Blunted on Reality is the story of Obi Ifeanyi, a Nigerian-American living in Houston (little Naija). Obi has just turned 29 and is contemplating the stage he's at in his life. He's a lawyer, but doesn't feel fulfilled in his job. He's also looking for a relationship, someone to settle down with - Mrs. Ifeanyi (his family also think it's time for him to settle down to). It is also the year Barack Obama gets elected as America's first African American President, and we get to see an African perspective on this historic election, Barack Obama and American politics in general. Oh and there's also a fair bit of sex (and it's not PG-13).  

I was interested in reading Blunted on Reality because I realised that when I read about the Nigerian (or African) diaspora I usually sway more to the African experience in Europe. So I was curious to find out about the Nigerian diaspora in America, especially as the novel is set in two American cities (Houston and D.C.) known for their Nigerian population. While reading, I genuinely felt that the narratives between Obi, his family, and his friends could be the sort of conversations young and old Nigerian-Americans have. It did make me wonder if Chinedu Achebe might possibly be drawing from some real experiences in life with family, friends and women. I have to say Obi does strike a nice balance. He isn't your traditional old-school Nigerian living in America but he also doesn't seem to have forgotten his Nigerian heritage. He seems to straddle both sides of his identity well and doesn't seem to be conflicted by either his Nigerian or American heritage. 

It was interesting to read Nigerians perspectives on Obama being elected from not only the older generation of Nigerians in America (like Obi's parents and uncle), but also younger Nigerian-Americans like Obi, his cousin and friends. The novel highlighted how Africans in America identified with Obama as an African man, how they may have also felt a bit left out as Africans in black America, and how they wanted Obama to engage in real dialogue with Africans. His family and friends also provide us with different perspectives of the Nigerian-Amerian experience. Blunted on Reality also highlights the relationship between Africans and African Americans and the divisions between these two groups, as well as the current state on Nigeria economically, politically and socially. 

Have I mentioned that there's also sex - because there's a bit of it, and no it's not subtle. When it comes to sex the characters in the novel know what they want and they really are not afraid to talk about it or ask for it. I'm all for the inclusion of sex in novels, and especially in African novels because we need to dispel this myth that Africans do not have sex, but sometimes I found it a bit too much particularly the ways in which it was described (but that might just be me).


I also have to be honest and say I did feel in some parts that this was a novel based on stereotypes, and while I found it insightful, not being one for stereotypes those sections didn't sit too well with me. For example:
"Obi's parents didn't dislike akatas (black Americans), but felt that their lack of culture would influence their own kids to not follow theirs if they got married. They also heard stories from other Nigerians about black American women refusing to take their husband's Nigerian name, not wanting their kids to have Nigerian names, or go to Nigeria to see their relatives. The final thing was the akata women refusing to learn to cook Nigerian foods"
I may not know much about the Nigerian-American experience or the relationship between African Americans and Africans but I didn't particularly like reading that non-Nigerian women  have no culture. While I understand that Blunted on Reality may have been trying to show the attitudes and views that may exist between Africans and African Americans, I personally couldn't take such one-sided views of black non-Nigerian women. Maybe because I know of many women, like my mother, that adopt the culture, take their husbands name, give their children Nigerian names, and even learn how to cook Nigerian food. I did find out later on that while Obi's uncle preferred his son married a Nigerian woman he also accepted that " ... a lot of Nigerian women weren't easy to deal with and he didn't want to put them on a pedestal as the best choice", but still sections like those weren't fun reading for me. 

While personally the presence of stereotypes is not something that sits well with me, reading Blunted on Reality showed me a lot of things I didn't know before and brought a new perspective on the Nigerian diaspora in America. One of my major concerns when reading the book was if the stereotypes it portrayed were based on fiction or fact, so I had to ask a few friends (both Nigerians in America, as well as African Americans). I did get some insight but I still would like to know if these views of African American women genuinely exist in the Nigerian-American community, what really is the relationship between Africans (or in this case Nigerians) and African Americans, and is akata a derogatory term? 

7 comments:

  1. I love how your review is reserved while still being kind. I get the sense you didn't really like the book =)

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  2. As a zimbabwean woman living in the states i have to say there is some truth to it. From what i have personally seen African-American women either embrace the african culture or they do not period. I know an African-American woman who comes to zimbabwean parties eats our local foods and makes an effort to get to know the culture, she even speaks shona. Im not sure how the stereotypes are presented in the book but there is an unspoken tension between the two cultures

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    1. Hi Anon,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your views with me. It is particularly nice hearing from an African living in the States, and to know that, as you said, while "unspoken tension" does exist between Africans and African-Americans, there are also some cases where African-Americans do embrace African culture. Like I said in the review, not knowing much about the African experience in America, I really wanted to know more about these views so thank you for sharing.

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  3. Akata is a derogatory term. Some people will try to argue that it is not but I've never heard anyone say it with love.

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    1. Yes! I have been told by quite a few people that it isn't a derogatory term, and by others that it isn't. A friend did tell me that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't - depending on the tone and intent.

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  4. i am a nigerian immigrant who is part of the younger genetration who lives in live in America the stereotypes portary in the novel may not neccary be true by it the way the nigeria- american community often refer to african-amercians. there is negtative perpection of the other group on both sides. i have african american friends and there many times that i hear horribe things said by both sides that makes me feel uncomfortable.i sometime feel caugth in the middle. it is a complex relationship.Chinedu Achebe portrays the truth of the complex relationship between both groups. you just uncomfortable reading about it imagine living with it.

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    1. Hi Anon,

      Thanks for sharing your views and it really does seem like a very complex relationship between Africans and African-Americans, and not being American or ever lived there, this relationship is not something I ever really thought about until reading this novel. Now I've read about it, it's definitely something I want to know more about, and hearing from Nigerians, and other Africans, that live in the States really does give me more insight. Thank you.

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