September 2, 2015 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Meta Pitrelli, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi, Joan Swensen.

Absent: Cathy Quinn,

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg.

The group made a toast to the health of Cathy, whose absence was necessitated by a brain scan. The happy postscript is that it was clear, so you can now do an Irish jig.

Questions and Comments regarding The Dream Lover:

  • To Barbara’s comment that she didn’t learn much about George Sand in this novel, Janice replied, “except that she screwed around a lot.” It was acknowledged that not a lot is known about her.
  • Lois was intrigued by Sand because she broke so many boundaries and was a feminist in her day. Much of the reason she dressed like a man was because it allowed her greater freedom and independence. Sand had a passion for writing and had to pursue it. At that time in history, if you had the voice of a woman, you weren’t heard.
  • Lois noted that as far as women have come towards equality, we still have a long way to go.
  • Liz pointed out that Sand left her kids, that she herself made that decision. Lois replied that, finding herself in a loveless marriage, her choices were few. Sand felt remorse for having left the children.
  • Barbara pointed out that what Sand did came back to haunt her, with her daughter Solange.
  • Tina referred to a quote by the French poet Baudelaire, calling Sand a “slut.” Lois referred us to page 24, where George says, “Like my father, I believed that love purified everything.” George had so many affairs, but she was always “in love” with the person. Her most torrid affair was with a woman.
  • Vivian noted that the book is relevant for those of us who went back to work after having children. We had to make adjustments, and difficult choices.
  • Sand had to write – can you explain that?
  • Liz asked, “If you lived at that time, would you have been a feminist, would you have had that kind of courage?”
  • Have we all survived wacky mothers? To Barbara’s question, Janice replied that it changes you. Yes, you survive, but your perspective on life is different.
  • Regarding Sand’s loves, Meta noted this line from page 102: “My true love became my pen, my beautiful apartment, and the pages I stacked up on my desk each night.”
  • Liz referred to a paragraph on page 270 where George is talking about when all seemed right between her and her husband. “At such times, I would chastise myself for ever wanting anything more….” So her fundamental problem was that she wanted too much!
  • The similarities between Frida Kahlo and George Sand were mentioned. Though separated by about a century, they shared characteristics: both at times dressed as men; both had affairs with men as well as women; both had long relationships with creative geniuses.
  • Regarding the issue of dressing as a man, Lois referred to page 137. When Sand began to dress like a man, “I experienced an elevation in society…. I was lent a kind of gravitas, given respect and inclusion that I had heretofore not experienced.”
  • Liz noted three main issues dealt with in the novel: (1) Moms leaving kids; (2) George always tried to change a positive into a negative; (3) Men vs. women.
  • Regarding the first of Liz’s points, women usually sacrifice more when the children come. It’s still hard to have a career and be a mother. Someone noted, “Mothering is being with the children.”
  • It was noted how hard Sand worked in her relationship with Chopin. She really wanted him! Liz felt that she didn’t want a lover – she wanted someone to love her.
  • Marilyn’s question stymied everyone. Did Sand write like a man or a woman?
  • Tina asked why artists are allowed such bad behavior. Answer: well, they’re different, they’re creative. Vivian felt there is nothing to forgive them for as long as they’re not harming other people. Barbara said they see the world through different eyes.
  • When asked what Cathy thought of the novel, Barbara said that Cathy thought the book would deal more with Chopin. Barbara seconded that there wasn’t that much about Sand’s relationship with Chopin.

The book earned a 3.0 rating after a bit of negotiating. All enjoyed another exquisite dessert baked by Sharon: a rich pound cake made with lots of butter, eggs and cream cheese. After the group’s delighted reception of lottery tickets that Barbara brought last month, it was decided to make this a monthly treat. Liz was set to bring this month’s supply but had an apparent senior brain freeze. It was agreed that we probably wouldn’t have won in any event.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, October 7, 5:00 p.m., at Joan’s house. This will be the last meeting at Joan’s until next spring. The book chosen by Meta is Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Those who already started the book have given it a positive review. Cathy will make the book selection for November.

Food assignments for the October meeting: Marilyn, green salad; Barbara, different salad and cups; Lois, cheese and crackers; Vivian, dessert and plates; Tina, lottery tickets. Only 2 pizzas next time!

Submitted by Tina Segali

September 6, 2015

Below is a review of our October selection, Americanah, from The New York Times.

What’s the difference between an African-American and an American-African? From such a distinction springs a deep-seated discussion of race in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, “Americanah.” Adichie, born in Nigeria but now living both in her homeland and in the United States, is an extraordinarily self-aware thinker and writer, possessing the ability to lambaste society without sneering or patronizing or polemicizing. For her, it seems no great feat to balance high-literary intentions with broad social critique. “Americanah” examines blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain, but it’s also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience — a platitude made fresh by the accuracy of Adichie’s observations.

So an African-American is a black person with long generational lines in the United States, most likely with slave ancestors. She might write poetry about “Mother Africa,” but she’s pleased to be from a country that gives international aid rather than from one that receives it. An American-African is an African newly emigrated to the United States. In her native country, she didn’t realize she was black — she fit that description only after she landed in America. In college, the African-American joins the Black Student Union, while the American-African signs up with the African Students Association.

Adichie understands that such fine-grained differentiations don’t penetrate the minds of many Americans. This is why a lot of people here, when thinking of race and class, instinctively speak of “blacks and poor whites,” not “poor blacks and poor whites.” Many of Adichie’s best observations regard nuances of language. When people are reluctant to say “racist,” they say “racially charged.” The phrase “beautiful woman,” when enunciated in certain tones by certain haughty white women, undoubtedly means “ordinary-looking black woman.” Adichie’s characters aren’t, in fact, black. They’re “sable” or “gingerbread” or “caramel.” Sometimes their skin is so dark it has “an undertone of blueberries.”

“Americanah” tells the story of a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu who, after she leaves Africa for America, endures several harrowing years of near destitution before graduating from college, starting a blog entitled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-­American Black” and winning a fellowship at Princet­on (as Adichie once did; she has acknowledged that many of Ifemelu’s experiences are her own). Ever hovering in Ifemelu’s thoughts is her high school boyfriend, Obinze, an equally intelligent if gentler, more self-effacing Nigerian, who outstays his visa and takes illegal jobs in London. (When Obinze trips and falls to the ground, a co-worker shouts, “His knee is bad because he’s a knee-grow!”)

Ifemelu and Obinze represent a new kind of immigrant, “raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction.” They aren’t fleeing war or starvation but “the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.” Where Obinze fails — soon enough, he is deported — Ifemelu thrives, in part because she seeks authenticity. Never has Ifemelu felt as free as the day she stops hiding her Nigerian accent under an American one, the accent that convinces telemarketers she is white. She refuses to straighten her hair (a favorite Web site is HappilyKinkyNappy.com), even if she must endure muttered disparagements from African-Americans when out with a white man — “You ever wonder why he likes you looking all jungle like that?”

Early on, a horrific event leaves Ifemelu reeling, and years later, when she returns to Nigeria, she’s still haunted by it. Meantime, back in Lagos, Obinze has found wealth as a property developer. Though the book threatens to morph into a simple story of their reunion, it stretches into a scalding assessment of Nigeria, a country too proud to have patience for “Americanahs” — big shots who return from abroad to belittle their countrymen — and yet one that, sometimes unwittingly, endorses foreign values. (Of the winter scenery in a school’s Christmas pageant, a parent asks, “Are they teaching children that a Christmas is not a real Christmas unless snow falls like it does abroad?”)

  • “Americanah” is witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic, both worldly and geographically precise, a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us. It never feels false.