#7: Inspire Interview Series – MICHELLE KEILL, NOVELIST

I have LOVED working on the Inspire Interview Series this year (catch up with any you missed here!) and getting to chat to so many amazing people about the cool stuff they’ve done with their lives. To round off 2018, I wanted to share with you a really special one.

1409DC03-D1AD-4569-897C-F37D4E88C22ELast year I was quite stressed out and disillusioned and needed a break and some inspiration, so I disappeared off to Paris for a weekend as it’s my favourite city in the world. Outside the bookshop (my spiritual home!) Shakespeare and Company, I discovered a book on a bench that had been left as part of a BookFairy Drop (where people leave books all around major cities and towns for others to discover)… and I was hooked. That was how I first connected with Michelle – through her gorgeous, haunting novel The Four Women (available here), and its characters, and I suppose above all – Paris.

Michelle Keill is a beautiful writer and novelist, and has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my Inspire Interview questions… so here’s hoping this kickstarts your New Year with a little creativity.

Writers are some of my favourite people because I’m fascinated by what they create, I get so excited when I get to talk to them – so without further ado, let’s chat to Michelle about her awesome work!

B: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

M: I’m not sure it was something I wanted to ‘be’, but it’s something I’ve always done. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house writing stories with a crayon (in those days I also illustrated – badly, but more competently than I would do now).

B: What is the best thing, and what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

M: The best thing, apart from the excuse to drink tea to excess and buy lots of pretty notebooks, is the opportunity to take myself out of reality and create a new one. Also, the potential to provide an escape for people: hearing from readers who’ve connected with the book is wonderful. As for the most difficult thing, any form of creative expression makes you vulnerable, and that feeling is hard to get used to. I find writing the first draft is the easiest part of the process – from there it gets harder, with all the rewriting and editing.

B: Can you give a little teaser about your novel The Four Women for anyone who hasn’t read it?

M: The book is about a young woman living in Paris whose world is drastically transformed by four women who enter her life, seemingly from nowhere, and introduce her to a reclusive and enigmatic tutor whom, they promise, can teach her French. On meeting him, she discovers that although he is indeed as brilliant as they described, he may not have the best of intentions. It’s a love story, but a dark one, and explores the theme of how much of our lives is predetermined, and what is simply chance. If I could give my characters one piece of advice it would be to be careful what you wish for, and to follow your instincts and stay true to yourself. Advice I try to keep in mind myself, actually.

B: What are you currently working on at the moment?

M: A collection of short stories, which should be published in 2019. I also have a romantic comedy and another Paris novel in the works.

B: Any tips for aspiring writers?

M: Write what enthrals and engages you, rather than what is popular or selling well at the moment (unless that is what enthrals and engages you!). You’re in charge of what you put on the page, so be sure it’s a genre or story that you feel passionate about. And read a lot. But, mostly, just write. 

B: Can you describe a writing day in the life of Michelle Keill?

M: Despite not being a morning person, my best time to write is first thing, so I try to make an early start. Then I’ll keep going until about two in the afternoon, which is usually when I feel my creative energy fading. I might push on into the evening if I’m working on a key scene or if I’m really in flow, but I find my mind is clearer earlier in the day. I need to be free of distractions (i.e. no phone), but I need music on when I write, otherwise it’s not happening.

B: What has been the most challenging part of getting to where you are today?

M: I developed a serious illness in 2014, which struck without warning and came close to getting the better of me. I ended up having emergency surgery to save my lung, which was frightening. From there it was a long road back to health. I wrote ‘The Four Women’ as I was recovering: while my body was restoring itself, my creativity was resetting too. I look back and I’m amazed that something good came from such a harrowing experience.

B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?

M: Happiness for me can be as simple as spending a rainy day indoors lying on the sofa with a book and a cuppa. Same for success: if one person reads my book and enjoys it, then I consider that a win.

B: Best life advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat other people as you’d want to be treated yourself. And, from my mum, always make sure you have a decent mascara.

B: Best career advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat everyone you encounter at work, no matter what their role, with equal courtesy. The person at the bottom today may be at the top tomorrow. I think that came from my mum too.

B: Do you have a role model or mentor you look to for career inspiration?

M: My friends inspire me with their kindness, loyalty, and courage. Also, if I’m in a tricky situation, I often think, ‘What would Michelle Obama do?’ That always gets me on the right track.

B: What does ‘balance’ mean to you?

M: It means leaving a bit of energy in the tank and not pushing too hard (I’m still learning how to do this!). It means pausing and not always rushing to the finish line. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.

B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?

M: To make a positive contribution to the world.

B: What inspires you to write?

M: People, faces, and places. Or sometimes just a line in a song. 

B: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be in another life?

M: Perhaps a doctor, if I could make the grade.

B: If you had to spend the rest of your life with one fictional character, who would it be?

M: Ross from ‘Friends’. He’s intelligent, sensitive, musical (!), and enjoys lounging around on sofas drinking hot beverages.

B: How do you take care of yourself and make sure you get the right ‘work life balance’, if there is such a thing?

M: Following my illness, I’ve learned to listen to my body (not quite sure I’ve mastered it yet). If you’re working too hard, or not getting enough sleep or eating properly, your body will usually drop a few subtle hints to let you know. I make sure I pay attention to those early warning signs, and try to take it a bit easier when I feel I need to.

Quickfire

Physical books or ebooks?

Physical, definitely. I love to see rows of bulging bookshelves.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Dinner.

Forests or beaches?

Forests. Bonus points if there are squirrels.

Walking or running?

Walking.

Favourite place?

Paris, Washington D.C., and my bed.

Dancing or yoga?

Dancing.

Nature or nurture?

Nurture.

Talent or hustle?

Talent.

Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. I’m all about the cheese.

Fave self-care ritual?

A hot bath, a book, and a cup of Earl Grey.

A good book or Netflix?

A good book, but I can’t pretend I could function without Netflix.

Fave quote:

Not a quote as such, but JFK’s ‘we choose to go the moon’ speech always gives me a boost when I’m feeling overwhelmed, incapable, or my courage is failing me.

Top 3 books?

Hard to choose just three, but …

1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

2. Misery by Stephen King

3. Tampa by Alyssa Nutting

Tea or coffee?

Tea, all day long. With plenty of milk.

Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)

Frank-N-Furter, Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, Romesh Ranganathan, Don Lemon, Charlie Brooker, Stephen Colbert, and Freddie Mercury (I’d have to invite my mum too if Freddie was there).

If you had a ‘death row dinner’ – a last meal that could be anything you want, favourites, whatever… what would it be?

Pizza, followed by homemade apple crumble (custard mandatory). All followed, of course, by a large cup of tea.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights Michelle, I am so excited to read more of your work as I still get shivers thinking about The Four Women!

Hope you all enjoyed hearing more about life as a novelist, and if you’d like to connect further, you can find Michelle on Goodreads here, Instagram here and Amazon here.

B xoxo

Live Well With Louise: An Honest Review of the Made In Chelsea star’s new health book

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Photo credit: Live Well with Louise imagery from www.amazon.com

Louise Thompson was initially best known for her role in pseudo-reality TV show, Made in Chelsea, but now arguably she’s equally well known for her abs so impressive you could grate cheese on them! The pocket rocket is also one of the founders of Pocket Sport, a luxe fitness clothing brand.

Louise never looked unhealthy but admits to having all kinds of issues, not least with her relationship with alcohol. Subjected to public scrutiny in the extreme, she ended up suffering with anxiety and having very poor self-image.

Her brand new book Live Well with Louise documents her journey, from struggling with body image and unhealthy habits to transforming her mindset, ditching the booze binges and loving workouts and healthy food.

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It also contains recipes, and workout routines (approved by her PT boyfriend Ryan Libbey (also of MIC fame!), of course!)

So… what’s the low-down? Yet another unqualified celebrity book, or worth a read?

The Verdict

What could have been just another celebrity offering diet advice is actually a relatable, down-to-earth account of an unhealthy relationship with health, to a total transformation which yes, while it’s very aesthetic and ‘abs-y’ also conveys the important message that health, taking care of your body, good nutrition and MOVEMENT can be cool… and that binge-drinking and hangxiety are actually not all they’re cracked up to be.

While your average girl or guy can’t relate to being a celeb, I personally relate SO HARD to Louise’s use of alcohol for confidence, and going a bit too hard in my teens to early twenties.

Louise’s transformation from non-stop ‘ragers’ as she calls them where she’d drink so much she’d black out, to a healthier focus on fitness and health with the occassional social red wine with friends and family at dinner parties or with a cracking Sunday roast is something all of us who went to uni, damaged our livers and need a kick up the butt in terms of healthy living can relate and aspire to!

The recipes

Here I was dubious – on opening the book I thought here we go, another book by a non-nutritionist purporting to give dietary advice… But she doesn’t! She openly states she’s not a nutritionist but openly shares what has worked for her. She goes by what I feel is a very simple and similar philosophy to my Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. Louise advocates filling half your plate with veggies (rainbow, variety, you got this!), quarter with complex carbs (ideally without the beneficial fibre stripped out, so rather than white bread and rice go for wholegrains, legumes, brown rice, sweet potato…) and a quarter with lean protein.

YES PEOPLE, LOUISE THOMPSON EATS CARBS AND STILL HAS A STUNNING, LEAN PHYSIQUE. I am so happy to see celebrities endorsing healthy, balanced meals and helping combat the media myth that carbs are bad. (See my stance on carbsand why they’re essential here!)

Louise’s recipes are surprisingly varied, and there are tonnes of them!

It’s not a slim and flimsy book with a couple of dinner ideas – it’s jam-packed with tasty, balanced meals, and YES it includes desserts and dinner party appropriate dishes!

The recipes are easy to follow, and the photography is gorgeous.

The workouts

I did feel this section could have been more extensive, but the circuits are decent with beginner, intermediate and advanced options, and approved by her PT boyf.

Louise breaks down each move for anyone who’s new to exercising, with clear photographs and descriptions of how to execute the movement, and tips for upping the intensity if it gets too easy.

All in all, while there aren’t loads of options, her 11 minute ab blast is great, and then she offers 3 circuits – easy, medium, and hard – which are enough to get you started, and you can always use her book as  a base to create your own.

Best of all, they’re do-able from home, no gym or super-fancy equipment required!

Overall?

Definitely worth it for Louise’s personal story, and the recipes… and I do love her ab routine, so I’d say it’s worth the (affordable and fairly small!) investment.

Hope that helps!

B xoxo

LegallyBooked – TWO MAYA ANGELOU MEMOIRS -Bookclub Pick #3

When thinking about the next bookclub pick, I just couldn’t narrow it down any further than these two, so I chose both… but narrowly Mom & Me & Mom is my favourite, though it’s a tough call.

Maya Angelou is, to steal an almost-quote from one of her own poems, a PHENOMENAL woman. She wasn’t just a writer (poetry, memoirs, essays), she was a singer, dancer, civil rights activist… but she is perhaps best known for her series of seven autobiographies, of which the above two novels are volumes. The first in the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells the story of her life up to the age of around 17 and is the book that brought her international acclaim.

Mom & Me & Mom (2013) is the last in the seven-book-series, focussing, unlike the other volumes, on Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, who is an incredibly powerful figure. It  revisits many of the same anecdotes she relates in her previous books, with the first part, ‘Mom & Me‘ looking again, like Caged Bird, at Angelou’s early years (pre-17), and documents Angelou’s journey from distrust of her mother and initial resentement to acceptance, love and support – epitomised by Angelou switching from her first name for her mother ‘Lady’, to calling her ‘Mom’ after Baxter assists with the birth of Maya’s son Guy.  Angelou chronicles the intense and unshakeable bond between them and Baxter’s vitality, along with their mutual support for each other, and tells the story of Baxter helping her navigate through single motherhood, work issues, a failed marriage, and career ups and downs.

Both books touch on Angelou’s sexual abuse as a child, and also deal with race, racism, womanhood, identity, family and travel. 

I love Angelou’s writing for its immediacy and authenticity. There’s a frankness, freshness and honesty in everything she writes, and I think her autobiographies are so powerful because although they tell Angelou’s very personal story, for example growing up and living as a black woman in the American South, she connects those experiences to those of all black women, exploring wider themes of racism, sexism, and isolation.

Click here for Penguin Randomhouse suggestions for book club questions on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Below are the LitLovers book club question suggestions for Mom & Me & Mom:

1. Maya says her mother was “irrestible.” What makes her so? How would you describe Vivian Baxter? What did you admire most about her? And what did you not admire?

2. How do you view Vivian’s decision to send her children to live with their father at such a young age? Why did it take her so long, even after the divorce, to call her children back to her?

3. Talk about Maya’s resentment of Vivian…and the halting path toward reconciliation that she followed. The Washington Post reviewer believes this process contains some of the best writing in the book. Do you agree…or not?

4. Discuss Maya’s brother Bailey and his easier path into his mother’s orbit. What can explain his later struggles with drugs?

5. What are some of the episodes in Maya’s life that particularly shocked you?

6. Talk about the society in which Maya grew up and the degree to which it was pervaded with racism. How have we changed…or have we?

7. Reviewers talk about the tone of optimism in this book—the fact that Angelou’s prose lacks bitterness. Do you agree? If so, why do you suppose that is? How has she been able to overcome a resentment that many of us would carry with us for years?

8. Mom and Me and Mom is the seventh book in Maya Angelou’s remarkable autobiographical series, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Have you read any other of the books in this series…or any of her books of poetry? If so, how does this book compare with the others? Can you identify elements of poetic writing in the prose style of this work?

 

 

 

#5 Inspire Interview Series – MEL WELLS – AUTHOR, ACTRESS, SPEAKER (+ Health & Food Psychology Coach)

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Photo credit: melwells.com

Welcome back to another Inspire Interview – I’ve loved doing this series soooo much because I love hearing peoples’ stories and insights into the things that really matter – finding things you love doing, drive to work hard, career, balancing health and a personal life and everything between! If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up with the full list here!

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Photo credit: melwells.com

Today we have a very special ‘episode’ – and I say episode because rather than the usual written piece because I have something new for you all…!

Being on camera is not in my comfort zone really at all, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak with the incredible Mel Wells and this super driven woman is all about pushing past your comfort zone! You may know her face from Hollyoaks, or you may know her from her brilliant bestselling book The Goddess Revolution and inspiring instagram feed… Mel has also been featured in Forbes Under 30 and was voted No. 1 Young Female Entrepreneur to Watch in the UK by About Time Magazine.

Mel does truly amazing work empowering women to fight back against diet culture and regain their happiness and health – her brand new book Hungry For More encapsulates everything this Inspire Interview Series has been about so settle down with a cup of tea and prepare to be inspired…

Back in London having lived in Bali, and now with a second book to her name (pre-order Hungry For More now to win free access to a special Masterclass with Mel and a chance to be entered to win one of her retreats in Bali – see her website for details!), Mel and I talked about all the BIG stuff – finding your ‘calling’, how food and your habits and relationship around it are reflective of the wider picture of your life and whether or not you’re fulfiled.

Press play on the video now to hear Mel’s story and epic insights into work, life, balance, spirituality, healing eating disorders, figuring out what you want from life, meditation and tonnes more! Plus the usual quick-fire round at the very end of course!

The interview: Mel Wells on being Hungry for More!

Thanks so much for chatting with me Mel! We look forward to reading your book when it’s out on July 10th!

Where to find Mel

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Photo credit: melwells.com

You can find Mel on instagram here and her website here!

If you’d like to pre-order Hungry For Moreher new book, get over to Amazon baby!

She also has a youtube channel, and you can also check out more on her Goddess retreats (hello Bali!) here.

Want to shop her first book? Get a SIGNED COPY of The Goddess Revolution from her online shop. And if you don’t love a tank that reads ‘green juice now, champagne later’… I don’t even know where to start! 🙂

Thanks for watching and hope you enjoyed the unusual Inspire Interview format! ❤

B xoxo

LegallyBooked – HEART BERRIES -Bookclub Pick #2

35840657.jpgSorry it’s been a while – I’ve been so busy reading I forgot about sharing exactly what I’m reading!

I’ve read a lot of really awesome stuff recently, but I reeeeeaaaaally had to share this one with you next.

Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot

I’ve taken a summary of the book from Goodreads as it’s a pretty good introduction to jump in with:

“Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.”

This book is an unusual one but it’s absolutely incredible. I don’t know how well you know Sylvia Plath but there’s a line she writes that ‘the blood jet is poetry’. This book brings that to life because my god, the blood jet really is poetry. Heart Berries is incredibly raw, vivid, almost Plath-ian and ‘confessional’, but its also so refined, carefully crafted and wrought, so the intimacy isn’t just dumped on you or exposed, but painstakingly built into art.

The vivacity, brutality and pure honesty of both language and content is refreshing – sometimes hit-you-in-the-face loud, and sometimes so subtle.

It’s not an easy read but the rhythm of her writing and the way she weaves words and disjointed syntax together is something you eventually fall into. Mailhot pushes the emotion via both content AND craft, into your very bones.

I love the way she writes about life, love, motherhood, mental illness, and she takes genres of abuse narrative and Native American writing and makes them hers, simultaneously defying and transcending claddification. This book shatters any box that could try to contain it.

Mailhot rejects white culture’s exoticised conceptions (a la Said’s Orientalism) of Native American mysticism but doesn’t disown those aspects of her culture – she just strips out the whites’ imposition of romanticism and mystical tropes and crafts her own magic with clarity and authenticity and a very personal, sometimes wavering, poignant yet strong voice.

One of my favourite quotes in the book is:

“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”

I can’t recommend this read enough! If you’re not already sold, I also recommend reading Roxane Gay’s review of it – it’s brilliant!

“Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here, is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small. She writes of motherhood, loss, absence, want, suffering, love, mental illness, betrayal, and survival. She does this without blinking but to say she is fearless would be to miss the point. These essays are too intimate, too absorbing, too beautifully written, but never ever too much. What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined, testament.”
Roxane Gay, author – Review of Heart Berries 

B xoxo

LegallyBooked – AMERICANAH -Bookclub Pick #1

E12D67BC-3F70-4EA3-9C6C-C0F74A5B571FSo while we mostly deal in fitness and nutrition here on this site, as I mentioned on the new bookclub page, books have been so important to me since forever. Growing up I was always a strange little bookworm and didn’t go anywhere without one. People laughed at me ploughing through a book nearly bigger than me – The Lord of The Rings – at about 7 years old… And I think books are key to wellbeing and cultivating curiosity and generally just living, experiencing and understanding life. Stories and narrative seem to be our way of creating or imposing patterns and meaning on the world.

Doing an English Literature degree made me a major book snob for ages, but thankfully now I’ve opened out to enjoying a wide range that includes low brow as well as high, chick lit as well as Chaucer (only I never actually read much Chaucer!) So this LegallyBooked bookclub isn’t a formal bookclub in a sense, it’s just sharing both high and low brow books we can all enjoy and chat about, and exploring interesting ideas in them.

As promised, to kick off the LegallyBooked posts, for this month I’ve picked AMERICANAH by Chimamanada Ngozi Adiche. It’s not a new book, it’s just one I’ve been trying to get around to reading for aaaaages.

I’ve not quite finished it, but it’s an incredible book and the way it deals with race and identity is illuminating, and it touches on political correctness, loss, belonging… and I just absolutely loved it, you HAVE to read it.

Essentially, it examines race and what it is to live in the UK and USA as an African immigrant, but it is also a love story, and Adiche is amazing in the way her voice is able to penetrate the darkest corners of society and throw light on currents of racism without it feeling like a sociological text – it’s not sneering, or preachy, or awkward. It’s lucid, self-aware, vivid, touching.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot about race and privilege that I never really noticed before (which tends to happen – if something hasn’t been an issue for you or come to your attention before, it tends to be because you’re privileged). Something I’d never really been aware of before was the politicisation of African hair types, and the pressure for anyone with this hair type to use relaxers or more white hairstyles at work, for example.

I’ve linked below to a couple of reviews you might like to read, and below are some “bookclub” style question recommendations for you to ponder from ReadingGroupGuides.com.

Bookclub questions (link to source above)

1. The first part of Ifemelu’s story is told in flashback while she is having her hair braided at a salon before she returns to Nigeria. Why might Adichie have chosen this structure for storytelling? What happens when the narrator shifts to Obinze’s story? How conscious are you as a reader about the switches in narrative perspective?

2. The novel opens in the Ivy League enclave of Princeton, New Jersey. Ifemelu likes living there because “she could pretend to be someone else…someone adorned with certainty” (3). But she has to go to the largely black city of Trenton, nearby, to have her hair braided. Does this movement between cities indicate a similar split within Ifemelu? Why does she decide to return to Nigeria after 13 years in America?

3. How much does your own race affect the experience of reading this or any novel? Does race affect a reader’s ability to identify or empathize with the struggles of Ifemelu and Obinze? Ifemelu writes in her blog that “black people are not supposed to be angry about racism” because their anger makes whites uncomfortable (223). Do you agree?

4. Aunty Uju’s relationship with the General serves as an example of one mode of economic survival for a single woman: she attaches herself to a married man who supports her in return for sexual access. But Uju runs into a serious problem when the General dies and political power shifts. Why, given what you learn of Uju’s intelligence and capabilities later, do you think she chose to engage in this relationship with the General instead of remaining independent?

5. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is too eager to capitulate to the demands of fitting in. Uju says, “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (120). Is Uju right in compromising her own identity to a certain extent? How is Dike affected by his mother’s struggles?

6. In the clothing shop she visits with her friend Ginika, Ifemelu notices that the clerk, when asking which of the salespeople helped her, won’t say, “Was it the black girl or the white girl?” because that would be considered a racist way to identify people. “You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things,” Ginika tells her (128). In your opinion and experience, is this a good example of American political correctness about race? Why does Ifemelu find it curious? Do you think these attitudes differ across the United States?

7. For a time, Ifemelu is a babysitter for Kimberly, a white woman who works for a charity in Africa. Adichie writes that “for a moment Ifemelu was sorry to have come from Africa, to be the reason that this beautiful woman, with her bleached teeth and bounteous hair, would have to dig deep to feel such pity, such hopelessness. She smiled brightly, hoping to make Kimberly feel better” (152). How well does Kimberly exemplify the liberal guilt that many white Americans feel toward Africa and Africans?

8. Ifemelu’s experience with the tennis coach is a low point in her life. Why does she avoid being in touch with Obinze afterward (157–58)? Why doesn’t she read his letters? How do you interpret her behavior?

9. In her effort to feel less like an outsider, Ifemelu begins faking an American accent. She feels triumphant when she can do it, and then feels ashamed and resolves to stop (175). Which aspects of her becoming an American are most difficult for Ifemelu as she struggles to figure out how much she will give up of her Nigerian self?

10. Ifemelu realizes that naturally kinky hair is a subject worth blogging about. She notices that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé never appear in public with natural hair. Why not? “Because, you see, it’s not professional, sophisticated, whatever, it’s just not damn normal” (299). Read the blog post “A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor” (299–300), and discuss why hair is a useful way of examining race and culture.

11. What does Ifemelu find satisfying about her relationships with Curt and Blaine? Why does she, eventually, abandon each relationship? Is it possible that she needs to be with someone Nigerian, or does she simply need to be with Obinze?

12. Ifemelu’s blog is a venue for expressing her experience as an African immigrant and for provoking a conversation about race and migration. She says, “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” (406). She asks, “How many other people had become black in America?” (298). Why is the blog so successful? Are there any real-life examples that you know of similar to this?

13. Obinze goes to London, and when his visa expires he is reduced to cleaning toilets (238); eventually he is deported. On his return home, “a new sadness blanketed him, the sadness of his coming days, when he would feel the world slightly off-kilter, his vision unfocused” (286). How does his experience in London affect the decisions he makes when he gets back to Lagos? Why does he marry Kosi? How do these choices and feelings compare to Ifemelu’s?

14. While she is involved with Curt, Ifemelu sleeps with a younger man in her building, out of curiosity. “There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach” (291–92). Is this a common feeling among young women in a universal sense, or is there something more significant in Ifemelu’s restlessness? What makes hers particular, if you feel it is?

15. When reading Obinze’s conversations with Ojiugo, his now-wealthy friend who has married an EU citizen, did you get the sense that those who emigrate lose something of themselves when they enter the competitive struggle in their new culture (Chapter 24), or is it more of a struggle to maintain that former self? Does Adichie suggest that this is a necessary sacrifice? Are all of the characters who leave Nigeria (such as Emenike, Aunty Uju, Bartholomew, and Ginika) similarly compromised?

16. Aunty Uju becomes a doctor in America but still feels the need to seek security through an alliance with Bartholomew, whom she doesn’t seem to love. Why might this be? How well does she understand what her son, Dike, is experiencing as a displaced, fatherless teenager? Why might Dike have attempted suicide?

17. Is the United States presented in generally positive or generally negative ways in AMERICANAH?

18. The term “Americanah” is used for Nigerians who have been changed by having lived in America. Like those in the novel’s Nigerpolitan Club, they have become critical of their native land and culture: “They were sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer” (408). Is the book’s title meant as a criticism of Ifemelu, or simply an accurate word for what she fears she will become (and others may think of her)?

19. How would you describe the qualities that Ifemelu and Obinze admire in each other? How does Adichie sustain the suspense about whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be together until the very last page? What, other than narrative suspense, might be the reason for Adichie’s choice in doing so? Would you consider their union the true homecoming, for both of them?

20. Why is it important to have the perspective of an African writer on race in America? How does reading the story make you more alert to race, and to the cultural identifications within races and mixed races? Did this novel enlarge your own perspective, and if so, how?

Reviews you may like

The Guardian review

The New York Times review

The Independent review

Financial Times review