Shea Butter, Borderline Incestuous Plays, and Americanahhh

This week is particularly special in my mind because every day was simply books, books, books. Each day, a fellow was assigned to present a book analysis and then open up a dialogue about African literature. We were each told to pick both a fictional novel and a more academic piece that would reflect either the history of Ghana or African experience in general. With two heavy books in my hand, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Shea Butter Republic by Brenda Chalfin, I was thrilled to spend this week engaging in my favorite pastime of reading.

This book report assignment also blended nicely into my literature discussion project with Alhassan as I was tackling the play In the Chest of a Woman by Efo Kodjo Mawugbe at the same time. The play was a fascinating read, a mix between Lady Macbeth and Mulan as a woman dispossessed from her throne disguises her daughter as a man in order for her to win back the power they rightfully deserved. While the cross-dressing and the drama caused when two female cousins begin to fall in love, adds suspense and humor, the play also serves as a fascinating critique of inheritance, sexism, power, and politics.

Meanwhile, Shea Butter Republic was a vastly different piece. This ethnography illustrated the commercialization of shea butter as it transitioned over the years from a nondescript, low-priced product into an expensive luxury good coveted all over the world. Describing how women dominate the production and market of shea butter on both ends and how Northern Ghanaian women struggled once shea butter was privatized, this ethnography reveals the consequences of neoliberalism with a focus on the experience of women.

Finally, Americanah was a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about two Nigerian students who fall in love, Ifemelu and Obinze,, and are separated as Ifemelu pursues her education in America, leaving Obinze in Nigeria. As Ifemelu transitions into her new life in America, she is surprised when she is given the new identity of “black” and becomes fascinated with the role race plays in American life, affecting her in her romantic relationships, educational experiences, career opportunities, and the most minor of interactions. As you watch Ifemelu grapple with critiquing race in America with a humorous eye, you also follow Obinze’s journey as he struggles with avoiding deportation in England. This book, tackling love and isolation, absolutely blew me away as I was wrapped up in Obinze and Ifemelu’s worlds for last three days. I’ve already begun recommending this novel to all my friends and I’m very grateful for this reading week to help me discover it.