I’ve recently read two books by immigrant writers: Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One is a memoir by a man from Russia, the other a novel by and about a woman from Nigeria, but they are both immigrants to America and write about the flavor of their experience. The challenge for the immigrant is remembering that everyone feels deep down that their own native experiences, values and expectations are obviously right. It is so very difficult to get past that.
Israelis drive horribly. From my American point of view they disobey the rules of the road constantly.
One thing that always gets to me is how people will stop absolutely anywhere to drop off and pick up people. No matter if they block the cars behind them, no matter if going a bit out of their way would manage the same result without delaying everyone else. I could not see this as anything but selfish, thoughtless and uncivilized. Then, a few years ago, I read this blog post by an Israeli woman living in America. For her my impatience while waiting thirty seconds for someone to discharge their kid in front of their destination is inflexible at best and quite possibly selfish! What is it to me to wait thirty seconds or drive around the stopped car? Why do I have to be such a stickler when there are more human approaches? It was a stark reminder that my reactions are culturally determined, not based on some universal truth. I won’t say that my basic indignation has changed, but I do think twice about my reactions now. Or at least try to. Sometimes.
Anyway, I loved Americanah for lots of reasons, and thoroughly enjoyed Little Failure. Both books do a great job of illustrating the bemusement of the immigrant. I am surrounded by Russian immigrants every day and Little Failure manages to both illustrate and give insight into their experience with humor but also respect. Americanah deals with immigration and lots of other themes, and still manages to be a beautiful love story. If you have not read it I do not want to ruin the ending, but it was one of the best written endings I have read in a while. She managed to gently build up suspense by playing with the reader’s assumptions about time and I was very nervous the last 20 pages or so. I highly recommend both books.