Monday, May 20, 2013

smelling of nothing & pretending to be someone else

"Princeton, New Jersey, 1960s" [via]

I've been anxious to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah since I heard her give a fantastic reading from the novel-in-progress last year at the Radcliffe Institute, long before I laid eyes on the book's beautiful opening paragraph: 
Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history, New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest-model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.
Adichie is back in town this week, reading from the recently released Americanah on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store.  Local readers, I hope to see/smell some of you there!