“Her books are very emotionally difficult to read.” It’s a phrase I say nearly every time I’m recommending one of Chimamanda Adichie’s books, most often for Half of a Yellow Sun or Americannah. I know it to be true. I spend a great deal of the time with my head buried in her books also with tears streaming down my face, an angry growl churning in my stomach, my face glowing beet red. I always assumed it was the subject matter. Her works contain a lot of violence, sexual abuse, domestic abuse; I mean, it’s war, and difficult relationships, and oppression and such. It’s not supposed to be easy. But that’s not the reason.
The subject matter isn’t what makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read. What makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read is her writing. She cruelly uses our humanity against us, her readers, plays with and preys upon our propensity to hope. She presents something to us, makes it familiar, comfortable, happy even-- A calabash providing solid comfort to a terror-stricken young woman on a dilapidated train overcrowded with fleeing refugees; a bouncy baby girl that arrives into our view only a few pages after the characters who have become endeared to us decide together that they want to have a child; the expectant young relative whose joy and excitement is brought to us through seemingly excessive side-jaunts to her far-off village. But the calabash holds a young girl’s head; the baby is only one of theirs; and the pregnant women are raped and sliced open before they are killed.
Adichie uses our innate hope for the good and beautiful, presenting a world to us that we do not even know is veiled, until we love what we think is there; and she pulls off the veil, daring us simultaneously to love the hideous reality and to hate the beauty we’ve already internalized.
And I simultaneously hate and love, her. As I turn another page with tears streaming down my face, wishing the book were over, wishing it would never end.