4x4th Estate: Black Identity

4x4th Estate brings you four novels focal on Black identity, looking at how it shapes and inspires.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest novel documents the parallel lives of Nigerian teenage sweethearts Ifemulu and Obinze as they emigrate to the United States and United Kingdom respectively. In America, Ifemulu eventually finds the freedom and means to start an increasingly popular and provocative blog, ‘Raceteenth Or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) By A Non-American Black’, chronicling her experiences and treatment. In London, Obinze works degrading and poorly paid jobs illegally, attempts a green card marriage and faces deportation. Both countries treat Ifemelu and Obinze differently, though the response to their blackness is what marries their experiences. The exploration of blackness in Americanah is just as important as the refreshingly alternative love story that graces every page.

 Push by Sapphire

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Sapphire’s debut novel details the life of Precious, a Black, illiterate and obese sixteen year old girl living in Harlem. The novel opens with Precious, illiterate and unable to write, documenting her life by spelling out her words phonetically and in her own dialect. Living with a mother who systematically abuses her and a father who has raped her, leaving her pregnant for the second time, Precious lives her life in a pit of darkness that she resigned to long ago. When she is enrolled in an alternative school due to her pregnancy, hope enters her life. Precious and her fellow students  Rhonda, Jermaine, Rita, Jo Ann, and Consuela, marked as troubled teenagers, are led to enlightenment by their teacher Ms. Blue Rain who introduces them to the works of classic Black writers such as Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and Langston Hughes.

 Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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The first novel in the Noughts and Crosses novel series subverts the idea of race as we know, and live it. In a dystopian world, Sephy and Callum, black and white, female and male respectively, must navigate their long-standing friendship in a segregated society. Sephy is a Cross, the daughter of a powerful member of the ruling class, and Callum is a Nought, colourless and fit solely to serve. Though a young adult novel, Blackman refuses to condescend and addresses themes much older than her audience. She presents to us the chilling hypothesis of our world if the slavery of the past was a way of living in our present.

 White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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White Teeth, Zadie Smith’s 2000 novel, looks at the interweaving of multiculturalism spanning across the eras. It skilfully mingles the themes of roots, class, fundamentalism and assimilation, while satirising the notions of class and culture.  Post-World War II best friends Samad Iqbal, Bangladeshi, and Archie Jones, English, raise their eventually intertwining families in a rapidly progressive England. Samad’s twin sons Magid and Millat, from his arranged married, grow up in different countries and take different paths, while Archie’s daughter Irie, whose mother is the much-younger Clara, a Jamaican woman whose mother is a devout and disapproving Jehovah’s witness, find themselves in a triangle of love, hate and loss.

Written by Candice Carty-Williams

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