I read The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. This novel takes place in DC in the 1970s where an Ethiopian immigrant who owns a grocery store in the city. The story centralizes around his relationships with other characters in his neighborhood, both Africans and non-Africans, and how they affect the culture shock that he feels living in the United States and how it feels to be displaced. Belowis the link to my review on amazon.
“American forces egalitarianism on you”
Both in Imitation and On Monday of Last Week, the notion of authenticity was mentioned. The word authenticity is often closely related with words like original or real. Even though something being authentic can raise the value of a subject, it can also create a stereotype or marginalized the other subjects that do not exactly follow the authentic style. In Imitation, Izemamaka said that American children talk to adults as they are equal. Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status. Izemamaka talked about egalitarianism as non-authentic value of African. As egalitarianism is vastly accepted as a social norm in the United states to a point where it is not odd th say that it became authentic American ideals. However, ‘authentic African women’ criticizes the idea of equality. The idea that is mutually understood as the norm or authentic can be completely foreign and odd in other cultures or countries.
The question of what is authentically African continues in On Monday of Last Week. When the housemaster compliments by saying Kamara speaks very good English. Kamara is uncomfortable with that compliment as Josh’s father obviously has an assumption that “English is his private property”. In fact, English is an official language of Nigeria. This assumption suggests that Josh’s father does not think that “Nigerian Language” is an authentic language for Africans, and it is out of the normality that Karma speaks the language the same language that he speaks; English. Another bold assumption was made by Josh’s family when they were surprised to know that Kamara has a master’s degree. This response of them was as if it is out of an African authenticity to be highly educated.As we talk about the danger of a single story, it seems safe to assume that Josh’s family did not have much experience or insight or African , or Nigerian culture. Stories like Imitation and On Monday of Last Week, which addresses the contrary of the typical stereotype that people might have about Africa is helpful to ease the danger of a single story.
All Our Names is a novel that traces identity. While it obviously traces the identity of names, such as stated in the title, the novel also highlights a topic particular to this course, the danger of a single story.
First of all, the story is told from two perspectives, regarding one character, Isaac. While both Helen’s story and Langston’s story is told blended into the story telling of present and past Isaac respectively. Both Helen and Langston share the extent of their history, telling about their family and often sharing anecdotes, while Isaac rarely opens up. When Helen finally reads Isaac’s file, there was only a single piece of paper with his basic information: name, birth date and why he was in the United States. She claimed, “In comparison, Isaac’s single-page life story had seemed like a blessing when I first saw it” (98). Similar to the fatal single story referenced at the end of Things Fall Apart, Helen goes on to describe Isaac’s file, “The only solid fact was his name, Isaac Mabira, but even that was no longer substantial: any name could have filled that slot, and nothing would’ve changed” (98).
Helen knows that there is so much more life to Isaac then that is presented in the file. But just as many of those represented from Africa are today, their stories lack individuality and identity when presented in the western world. Most of the western world’s perspective is that all of Africa is war-torn, violent and poor. Chimamanda Adichie highlights these issues in her TEDtalk “The Danger of a Single Story” and the website, Africa Is a Country, published an article about “Telling ‘the African story’” ( can be found here: http://africasacountry.com/the-responsibility-of-journalists/).This theme is essential to understanding this course and African literature as a whole. While every story may be different, and more complicated than others, everyone has a past and a story to be told.