Some time ago, I began what I thought was going to be “a typical immigrant story” on my Kindle app. I am referring to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published in 2013, it tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, star-crossed lovers. I began reading around last Thanksgiving (2019) and because I often overlook books “parked” on my Kindle, and because I became involved with Cybils reading demands, I forgot about the book. But I didn’t forget about the story. This past week I finished it.
It’s fascinating peek into Nigerian culture and mindset kept me reading as Ifemelu, an exchange student at Princeton prepares to return to her native Nigeria. Obinze, her childhood best friend and “sweetheart” thinks about her imminent return in alternating chapters. Will the couple resume their early college relationship in Nigeria? Or has too much occurred in both their lives for this to happen?
Adichie’s story easily fits the genre of Literary Fiction with its sweeping descriptions, complex character development, and the message presented by Ifemelu’s blog entires on race, set both in America and in Nigeria. As she searches for her roots, Ifemelu finds her self and her destiny. It is a darned good read, but not your usual immigrant story.
Tru and Nelle and Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, both written by G. Neri and illustrated by Sarah Watts, are about the childhood and teenage friendships of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). When interviewed as to why he wrote the refreshing novels, Neri said he “used their (Capote and Lee’s) childhood friendship in Monroeville, Alabama as fodder for (his) fiction.” The author continued, “I was intrigued that no one had ever written about that friendship, especially for young people.” (Neri, interviewed in “Taking with G. Neri” / Books and Writers (magazine)
Neri recommends the first novel, Tru and Nelle for second through sixth graders and T and N: A Christmas Story for middle school students. At the end of the first book, Tru leaves Monroeville where he had spent the summer with his aunt for New York City to live with his mother and stepfather. The second novel begins with Tru running away from a military school his mother had placed him in as an attempt to “man him up,” and he heads to Monroeville. There he is awaited by Nelle and Big Boy, the notorious detective story enthusiasts and “agents” from childhood who are now growing into their pre-teen and teenage years. The setting is 1930’s Monroeville, home of the Jim Crow laws, the Klu Klux Klan and Southern Injustice. All characters, events, and places are “drawn from real life,” characters and events. Beginning with Tru’s Aunt’s house burning to the ground, leaving the family homeless at Christmas, an event Nelle’s father feels he is responsible for, the tale is described as “speculative fiction in search of poetic truth.” Both books are funny, sad, touching and well-researched.
The first book is deliberately reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the second deals with teenage angst, search for sexual identity, and zaniness of the teen years. Both are excellent books.