'Amerikanah' with a side of Jollof rice

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“Amerikanah,” by Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche, is easy, foodwise. The characters are constantly eating some variation of Jollof rice, a Nigerian staple, which begins with rice and includes various vegetarian, meat and seafood versions. The story is tricky, quite different from Adiche’s earlier “Half of a Yellow Sun,” a brilliant novel about the Biafran War. The author tackles the world of Nigerian émigrés who come to America for education and business and discover American racism. One character says, “I never thought of myself as black before.”

I felt uncomfortable reading this book, because it shines a bright light on the unconscious biases that inform our thinking and behavior toward one another. The author devotes a lot of ink to the subject of hair — African-American hair, Nigerian hair, white hair and the weaving, braiding, combing and straightening of hair to conform with one’s culture, or self-image, or upcoming job interview.

“The Madwoman in the Volvo” by Sarah Tsing Loh, is a stop-do-not-pass-go-pick-up-this-book-and-read-it work, especially for men, who should memorize this horribly hysterical account of menopause for their own protection. As Judith Newman writes in a New York Times review, “If menopause just made you want to kill someone, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it makes you want to kill someone you love.” As for what to eat while reading this memoir, I say the same thing I said to the 500-pound gorilla: “Anything you want.”

By all means, put “The Seduction,” by Katherine Grant, into your beach bag. Quick, sexy, violent and intriguing, this new historical novel transports the reader to the 18th century for a bloody good time. If you don’t want to accompany it with a side of beef haunch or whatever they ate in those days, then just make this a fully indulgent experience, and munch M&Ms or Cracker Jack while you devour the book.

I would be remiss not to suggest one blast from the past. This summer, read “Moby-Dick” again. I tell you, it holds up. Considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, it has spawned hundreds of derivative novels, including “The Art of Fielding,” by Chad Harbach, another winner. Just do it, and enjoy a seafood cocktail on the side.
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