Book 92 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from November 30 - December 19
Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American by Okey Ndibe
Summary (via the book jacket)
Okey Ndibe's funny, charming, and penetrating memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential - but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency - African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe's relationships with China Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just 13 days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber; considers American stereotypes at Africa (and vice-versa); and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery. All these stories and more come together in a generous, encompassing book about the making of a writer and a new American.
I wasn't sure how to rate this one because I really liked the book but after hearing him speak at the Iowa City Book Festival, where he read a few of these chapters aloud and signed my book, just reading the rest didn't feel like enough. This would be great to listen to as an audiobook.
It was interesting because he made a note in the book that as time has passed since he was stopped by the police because they were looking for a bank robber and he fit the description (basically, a black man), the tone in how he has told the story changed from dread to humor. He told that story in the reading I attended and it's true that he made it light and humorous, as he did other events that must have been very difficult at the time.
Keeping it light doesn't mean he glosses over the struggles. It's the talent of a true writer to make you think without beating you over the head with the lessons he/she wants you learn, and Okey is a phenomenal writer.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"The books and journalism I consumed fueled my desire to write. I needed writing badly, needed it to save me from a career in the corporate world that my studies would sentence me to. Bohemian at heart and by habit, I dreaded the prospect of a regular eight-to-five job."
"I sought to draw attention both to the rampancy of power abuse and to the repercussions of silence. Those who shut their eyes in order to see no evil, to denounce none, those who plug their ears and gag their mouths, should be under no illusion. They may delude themselves, but they cannot enter a plea of innocence in history's great carnages, its galleries of gore and horrors."