This is the first of my planned occasional reviews. I download audio books onto my iPad. Because of my poor technical skills at present I only download from audible.com. I find CDs difficult to manage but this could be because of the extreme age of my CD player. I do still read books on Kindle but now I have developed a better listening technique am enjoying audio books.
Life after Life, Kate Atkinson, narrated by Fenella Woolgar (unabridged, 15 hours 33 minutes)
This is the time traveling story of Ursula Todd (known as Little Bear by her father) born at Fox Corner on a snowy night in 1910 who died at birth. Or did she? Alternatives are presented as Ursula lives through her various incarnations through two World Wars and onwards. She is born and dies over and over again.
Kate Atkinson draws a riveting picture of this time of rapid changes and its effects on a comfortable middle class family. Mother, Sylvia, and father, Henry, have four children (or do they?), a dog and two servants.
I particularly liked the various scenarios presented during World War 2 when Ursula lives in London. The author describes the London blitz without cliché and with a vividness and humanity that is very moving.
Usually I don’t like novels involving time shifts but I found Life after Life powerful and thought-provoking at the same time as being a real ‘page turner’. The importance of the slightest changes in actions and circumstances which can change the course of one’s life is the main premise of this clever novel. I found it atmospheric and interesting. It didn’t convert me to this genre of writing though.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh (unabridged, 17 hours 28 minutes).
The narrator is superb taking in all the nuances of the different accents and language.
This is my favourite contemporary book for a very long time!
The two main characters, Ifenelu and Obinze, are teenage friends and then lovers in Lagos, Nigeria. In the face of the dangers and corruption of the military dictatorship, many young people, encouraged and supported where possible by their families, leave Nigeria to pursue their education elsewhere.
Ikenelu makes her way to America. In spite of acute financial hardship and humiliation she achieves the education she wants and becomes successful. I love the way Adichie uses the metaphor of African women’s hair styles to explore the levels of racism in the US.
After 9/11 America will not give Obinze a visa and he finds himself in London struggling to support himself with squalid and illegal work. Eventually, he too achieves his goals and returns to the new Nigeria to build a successful life.
Adichie is a marvellously perceptive writer who uses irony to explore the Nigerian diaspora. I laughed out loud at the description of the dinner party in North London when Obinze, fresh from his job cleaning toilets, visits his now yuppie school friend and his very rich wife. The description of the dinner party is funny and revealing and excruciatingly embarrassing.
This book explores the contemporary issues facing aspirational and foreign educated Nigerians who return to their own country which is now undergoing tremendous change. This elegant novel has all the qualities of Half of a Yellow Sun and has moved forward to embrace the present in America, the UK and West Africa.
I didn’t want it to end!
I would love to read your comments. Suggestions for future blog posts would be welcome. Above all what are you reading/listening to now? What kind of books do you like?