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Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American

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Okey Ndibe’s memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an Okey Ndibe’s memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just 13 days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber; considers American stereotypes about Africa (and vice-versa); and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery.


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Okey Ndibe’s memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an Okey Ndibe’s memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential—but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency—African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe’s relationships with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other literary figures; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just 13 days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber; considers American stereotypes about Africa (and vice-versa); and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery.

30 review for Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American

  1. 4 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    I thought that after reading Okey Ndibe’s Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American I might have a better idea why I’ve been reading so many great novels by Nigerian writers recently. This was an interesting memoir, but it didn’t provide those answers! What most fascinated about this memoir was the trajectory of Ndibe’s debut novel, Arrows of Rain (which I plan to read) from its inception to being noticed by acclaimed Nig I thought that after reading Okey Ndibe’s Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American I might have a better idea why I’ve been reading so many great novels by Nigerian writers recently. This was an interesting memoir, but it didn’t provide those answers! What most fascinated about this memoir was the trajectory of Ndibe’s debut novel, Arrows of Rain (which I plan to read) from its inception to being noticed by acclaimed Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka. How Ndibe came to be a writer in America is all tied up in this novel. Given his background, it’s not what readers would have expected and it’s not what Ndibe himself expected either. His interaction with Chinua Achebe (a writer idolized in Nigeria) was also interesting and helped Ndibe establish himself as a writer. There were other incidents recalled in the memoir: how he was mistaken for a bank robber 13 days after arriving in the U.S., his (a Nigerian’s) view on Americans and their pets and the differences in etiquette between Nigerians and Americans. However, the best parts (even if they didn’t shed light on why there are so many great Nigerian novels) had to do with Ndibe becoming a writer. 3.5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I picked up this book as a task for the Read Harder Challenge 2017: read a book by an immigrant or about the immigrant experience. This book is about both and it is very good. It also helps to fulfill a personal goal which is to read more books by male authors of color. This was an unexpected pleasure. A view of the immigrant experience through the eyes of a Nigerian born man. It is a collection of vignettes that cover how he came to America, his experiences therein, how Nigerians viewed America I picked up this book as a task for the Read Harder Challenge 2017: read a book by an immigrant or about the immigrant experience. This book is about both and it is very good. It also helps to fulfill a personal goal which is to read more books by male authors of color. This was an unexpected pleasure. A view of the immigrant experience through the eyes of a Nigerian born man. It is a collection of vignettes that cover how he came to America, his experiences therein, how Nigerians viewed America and Great Britain, some of the cultural differences growing up etc. His journey has interesting pathways in the publishing, through many acclaimed authors and academics referenced. Ndibe is a great storyteller. He has a very smart yet easy going manner to his writing that I found appealing. Indeed, by reading this memoir I have enhanced my vocabulary with the following words: synecdoche, cynosure, imperturbable, ablution, stentorian, impecunious, parsimonious, abjuration, polyglot and vicissitudes. Thank goodness I had my kindle to look them up; but his writing did not come off as haughty or disconcerting. I was quite comfortable with the way he turns a phrase. I found his memoir strongest when he is writing about Nigeria and his own perceptions as an immigrant. I loved learning about what his family thought about the world. In those days, Britain was the country everybody called Obodo Oyibo, the land of the white people. These were the pale people who, years ago, had journeyed by sea from their far-flung land and emerged like ghosts to turn our lives upside down, to conquer and rule us. He delightfully and playfully describes what his family told him how to protect himself in America: Americans can't stand any stranger looking them in the face. They take it as an insult. It's something they don't forgive. And every American carries a gun. If they catch you, a stranger, looking them in the face, they will shoot. With regards to his becoming a naturalized American, I couldn't help be moved by his thoughts and his family: When I called my mother on the phone and told her about being sworn in as an American, she paused. Her silence was pregnant, suggested a momentary struggle with incomprehension. Then regaining her voice, she asked in an anxious vein, "Why?"This reaction prompted Ndibe to think on what it all means and responds with some of the most poignant passages in the book: Why, indeed? I had to ask myself. What did it mean, at bottom, that I had become, on that May morning, an American? Did becoming an American entail an obligation, as my mother no doubt feared, that I had "unbecome" what I had been before-an Igbo, a Nigerian, an African? [sic] Was American citizenship somewhat ersatz, nullifying Nigeria and all that it had meant to me? Did it call for amnesia about America's past history of racial discrimination against Africans, its unresolved legacy of racism, or the turning of a blind eye to the nation's sometimes exasperating foreign policy choices?He finally decides that American citizens also have a role to play in his citizenship: Americans have, the partial responsibility to bear, to determine what value and meaning to assign to me as a brethren of theirs, a relative if a distant one. In fellow Americans' eyes, how American was I deemed to be, with my African features, my stories, my accent and all? How much of my Nigerianness would they permit me to bring along with me and what would they insist that I check at the door? What price, in other words, would they expect--require--me to pay in order to authenticate my American identity. To be fair, though he was naturalized in 1997, but this book was published in 2016. I wonder if the current cultural/political climate had an effect on how he tells the story. But he does not reduce life in Nigeria to nostalgia. He doesn’t idealize Nigeria and/or its politics either: Sadly, Nigeria is also a country conceived in hope but nurtured--primarily by its gluttonous leaders and their global corporate partners in crime--into hopelessness. If Nigerian scams had made themselves felt around the world, it was largely because the country's leaders had respected no bounds or limits in their egregious grasping, in their culture of self-aggrandizement and illicit enrichment. Yes, he's talking about Nigeria not [insert first world country here]. Near the end of the book Ndibe devotes a long chapter discussing his parents and his father's lifelong friendship and pen pal with a British officer he had met while serving in WWII. Here the long held thoughts about the colonial effects on Nigeria and the treatment of Africans worldwide is discussed in detail. It's a really beautifully done chapter, in my view the best in the book. Of his father's perceptions of war: As I discussed the was with my father, I came close to grasping a sense of the great psychic toll of World War II had taken on the African combatants. There they were, compelled to fight in a war that was, in the end, the logical culmination of a species of racism Europeans had planted. The same Europeans had used this creed of racial superiority to yoke Africans.By the end of the book we begin to see that Ndibe internalizes the lessons that his father figures have taught him. He feels the need to speak out more and more against injustice : that we die, our very humanity slayed, whenever we choose to remain silent in the face of tyranny.Again I wonder about the effects of current events on his memoir. The book is also full of humorous situations such as arriving in New York for the first time without a winter coat. He muses "Winter, I wrote, was akin to living inside a refrigerator." Or the numerous misunderstandings that take place because his name is Okey pronounced Okay. He also muses the lack of knowledge of Africa in America when people constantly conflate the continent with a country or village and where one of his students literally asks him how he came to America when there are no airports in Africa. He laughs at the culture clash when he first arrives in America and is invited to lunch but is expected to go Dutch (which has no place in Nigerian culture). I also enjoyed his folktales and his tales of growing up in Nigeria. I had one big issue with the book. Ndibe devotes very little time or thought to his immediate family, especially his wife. Throughout the book, Ndibe peppers in the fact that he's married with kids. He devotes a chapter to the folktales that he teaches his children but doesn't mention their names. The reader doesn't actually get introduced to his wife until the last half of the last chapter in this short book. And the half a chapter that is devoted to her feels rushed. We also learn his kids' names there, but it's an afterthought. It's as if they had no impact on his life, philosophy, outlook or musings what so ever, especially when compared to the significant number of pages dedicated to his various male role models. Ah the patriarchy. It matters not your country of origin. I confess that the quotes that stuck out for me are different than the actual tone of the book. While the book is serious, it is also quite playful, positive and for the most part, superficial. My chosen quotes are more about my jaundiced eye that seems to key in on social and cultural things rather than the more humorous, positive and light feel of the book. But honestly, this was a great memoir and I look forward to reading more from this interesting and talented author. 4 Stars Edited to Add: Read the kindle edition

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    I love memoirs! They take me to places and into situations where I would never be, they're honest, and they encourage empathy. I haven't read much in the way of fish out of water/international memoirs but I thought this one looked good (what a great title!) and it is a book published by my new company and I will be with the author at NEIBA this fall, so I figured I'd better give it a shot! And it was quite enjoyable. Okey has a wonderful sense of humor. I doubt I'd have been able to take half the I love memoirs! They take me to places and into situations where I would never be, they're honest, and they encourage empathy. I haven't read much in the way of fish out of water/international memoirs but I thought this one looked good (what a great title!) and it is a book published by my new company and I will be with the author at NEIBA this fall, so I figured I'd better give it a shot! And it was quite enjoyable. Okey has a wonderful sense of humor. I doubt I'd have been able to take half the things that happened to him in such stride and with such goodwill as he does. But I'm sure his positive outlook is a big part of what has taken him so far in life. For me, I particularly liked the first half of the book, when he is growing up in Nigeria, and his first few weeks in America. He comes here in order to start up a magazine for Africans and Nigerians specifically, founded by his friend Chinua Achebe. The funding is iffy from the very beginning and once again, his humor and positivity prove a boon as he negotiates with vendors and pleads with writers with long-outstanding invoices. Eventually it does fold, but by then he's gotten a toe-hold in Boston and a friend greases the path for him to enter into a prestigious MFA program right away. I wasn't as crazy about the rest of the book which was more episodic and not as linear as the first two-thirds. I wish he'd told us how he met his wife and kept along with the "making of a Nigerian-American" theme of him coping with homesickness and culture clashes. He does tell funny stories about misunderstandings (several related to how his first name sounds exactly like "Okay" and therefore mix-ups occur, such as when his ride at a conference asks a stranger, "Are you Okey?" and he hears "Are you okay?" and says yes, when he is not Okey Ndibe.) These were endearing and charming, but lost the narrative thread. That said, he gives a great idea of what it's like to move from Nigeria and land in New York City in January without a coat (his family back home found the concept of "cold" as a weather description so foreign, the only way he could explain it was that it felt like living inside a refrigerator.) And I adored him talking about his first night at a mutual friend's apartment, where he used every single soap and shampoo that he found in the guest bathroom, repeatedly. It felt so gloriously decadent! This was an amusing tale that could have been fraught with terror and horror stories (he was rounded up by police from a bus station his very first week in America because he "fit the description" of a bank robber) but instead, Okey accepts his adopted country with its faults and strengths, and cheerfully gathers up more funny stories for his next cocktail party, and presumably for his next book as well.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Unarine Ramaru

    The book began with outstanding storytelling, detailing Prof. Okey Ndibe's Nigerian upbringing and culture shock through his immigration experience in America. Very interesting story of how he became a writer and what brought him to his adopted land. Thoroughly enjoyed tales of his father's influence on him and his first humorous lunch experience in America. ---- As the jovial tone is taking root, it seems the Professor lost control of the book. It is expected for memoirs to be fractured in struct The book began with outstanding storytelling, detailing Prof. Okey Ndibe's Nigerian upbringing and culture shock through his immigration experience in America. Very interesting story of how he became a writer and what brought him to his adopted land. Thoroughly enjoyed tales of his father's influence on him and his first humorous lunch experience in America. ---- As the jovial tone is taking root, it seems the Professor lost control of the book. It is expected for memoirs to be fractured in structure, it becomes another thing when the book begins in a linaer manner then folds into a meandering structure. At some point there is a wife and kids, I thought of hunting prof and ask him where the family came from. I had to read all the way to the final chapter to get an oh by the way mention of how he proposed. Which still left me wondering, who is that woman!? ---- Although it became a bit of a disjointed read overall, the conversation like style of each individual chapter kept my attention throughout. A short read that could've been even shorter if words and sentences like "cynosure" and "the doleful sign was writ even more large for me" ---- A scaled down 3.5 to 3/5 star rating from me. I recommend you listen to the book rather then read it. The styling allows for enjoyable drive time tales. I wish someone gave me that advice before I picked it up.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roger DeBlanck

    Okey Ndibe reveals the depths of his heart in this compulsively engaging memoir. Each of his tales offers illuminating wit and insight about acculturation, colonialism, and the art of writing. Equally impressive is the clarity of the rich language he employs to narrate his experiences. From his childhood upbringing in Nigeria, Ndibe dreamed of the magic and mystery of Britain, the USSR, and America. With the lure of journalism fueling his adventurous dreams, he landed a prized interview with the Okey Ndibe reveals the depths of his heart in this compulsively engaging memoir. Each of his tales offers illuminating wit and insight about acculturation, colonialism, and the art of writing. Equally impressive is the clarity of the rich language he employs to narrate his experiences. From his childhood upbringing in Nigeria, Ndibe dreamed of the magic and mystery of Britain, the USSR, and America. With the lure of journalism fueling his adventurous dreams, he landed a prized interview with the inimitable Chinua Achebe. This opportunity later led to an offer from Achebe for him to move to America as editor of the magazine African Commentary. Before leaving, his uncle gave him advice: do not look Americans in the eye. For Ndibe, he had a notion of his uncle's caveat from having watched American movies and seen how provocation between combatants often led to fatal stare downs. Ndibe blends compassion and humility with his trademark warmth and humor in order to reflect upon the rigors of acculturation. Perhaps, Ndide's most impressive quality is his inspiring reflections on humanity. As a self-described Nigerian American, it is beautiful to hear Ndibe discuss the “fruitful marriage” of his two countries, a process that he calls a “gain-gain” scenario for him as an American citizen. In fact, he sees cultural norms as neither better nor worse, but rather different in what they represent about human diversity. With sage observation regarding the struggles of outsiders, he shows how those on the margins of society possess “a richer, more complex, and profoundly more humane imagination.” Ndibe's memoir is replete with fantastic stories about his experiences in America, including the time he was mistaken as a suspect in a bank robbery or the laughable incidents of his first name causing confusion with the expression of “okay.” Ndibe's tales also reflect perseverance in the face of watching African Commentary wither in demise due to financial instability. This is also a memoir in which Ndibe offers his gratitude to those who guided and encouraged his path to writing. It is a joy to read about the reverence he holds for others who gave him the confidence to pursue his own writing endeavors. Ndibe also relays the wondrous anecdote about his grandfather returning from the dead and the subsequent unburying and restoring of his spirit that had to transpire. This leads to an even more beautiful story about Ndibe remembering his own father and wanting to honor his service as a veteran of the Second World War. The retelling of his father's incredible lifelong friendship with Father John Tucker, an English officer, takes Ndibe on a journey where he connects with Tucker in hopes of better knowing his father. Ever the conscientious mind, Ndibe's memoir serves as activism too. His command of the politics surrounding Africa brings him to the duty of confronting colonial exploitation, misconception, and ignorance. He outlines the challenges Nigeria has endured in its quest to embrace democracy and how he's always admired the fearlessness of Wole Soyinka to stand up to tyranny. He learned from Soyinka that choosing to remain silent is akin to death. What Ndibe leaves me with most is his humanity, his ability to overcome struggle and hardship with the resilience of hope and a smile to go along. His narrative will keep your heart pounding, but moreover he achieves the most important facet of humanism: bringing light to darkness and finding a way to alleviate suffering. The range and craftsmanship of this memoir is impressive, but the size of his heart is even more so. My review of Ndibe's novel Foreign Gods, Inc.: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    A lazy assemblage of essays clearly written for other publications and haphazardly jumbled into one bound volume. Smacks of canned, stale anecdotes pulled out for radio interviews. Pretentious use of the English language. I'm glad I didn't buy it. A lazy assemblage of essays clearly written for other publications and haphazardly jumbled into one bound volume. Smacks of canned, stale anecdotes pulled out for radio interviews. Pretentious use of the English language. I'm glad I didn't buy it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Ann

    A delightful book with charming pros and witty anecdotes about living in America for the first time from a Nigerian's perspective. I definitely enjoyed learning about another culture and how silly some of the things are about Americans from a different perspective. It's a memoir so it's a fractured in structure and not in chronological order. Throughout the second half I kept wondering why he didn't mention more about his wife or kids and at the very end he reveals that he was somewhat of a play A delightful book with charming pros and witty anecdotes about living in America for the first time from a Nigerian's perspective. I definitely enjoyed learning about another culture and how silly some of the things are about Americans from a different perspective. It's a memoir so it's a fractured in structure and not in chronological order. Throughout the second half I kept wondering why he didn't mention more about his wife or kids and at the very end he reveals that he was somewhat of a playboy before getting married; it's as if he did not trust us to accept his character fully until he was able to firmly establish all the good bits first. Which, as I have learned, is a legitimate fear of foreigners entering into a new culture so I don't blame him but it was a bit jarring because it seemed to be an admission out of nowhere at the very end and felt like a rather strange note to end on. I guess, it's important to me how the author ends and what final thoughts I'm left with, and I was left a little unsettled.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rasheedat

    Really enjoyed reading this book. Gave a lot of insight into Biafra war, world war 2, colonisation of Nigeria by the Brits, love, immigration, and many more. Definitely recommend

  9. 4 out of 5

    Onome

    Many Africans desire to see the life beyond the shores of their continent. For Ndibe, this desire lurked deep inside him as a child growing up in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The mystery that the White man posed to him triggered an unending desire to travel to America and the United Kingdom. According to him “For us, the British Isles summed up that other world that lay well beyond the borders of our unsettled lives. It was the world of white magic, white mystery and white power.” Okey Ndibe was Many Africans desire to see the life beyond the shores of their continent. For Ndibe, this desire lurked deep inside him as a child growing up in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The mystery that the White man posed to him triggered an unending desire to travel to America and the United Kingdom. According to him “For us, the British Isles summed up that other world that lay well beyond the borders of our unsettled lives. It was the world of white magic, white mystery and white power.” Okey Ndibe was born in May 1960 just when Nigeria was nearing the threshold of Independence. He met the white man in books he read at school which according to him “gave credit to the British for discovering every significant geographic landmark in Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world.” The world he was used or introduced to was one that defined Africa in Western contexts. It was the reason for his deep fascination and desire to one day go outside the shores of the country. Okey Ndibe’s memoir chronicles his journey as a young boy in Nigeria and his very sudden yet exciting trip to the United States . This opportunity was as a result of his encounter with the famous Chinua Achebe. Okey Ndibe had read Chinua Achebe’s books and considered him one of Africa’s finest writers. The first time Okey Ndibe saw Chinua Achebe was when the man drove past where he sat with his friends and they waved to him excitedly. And then another time, Ndibe met him at a gas station and exchanged pleasantries with the writer. Then, the meeting that defined all meetings was when Okey Ndibe went visiting a friend who told him that Chinua Achebe was her uncle. She took him to see him and Ndibe got Achebe to commit to an interview. At this time Ndibe was working with African Concord. Ndibe does not spare any details as he chronicles all that happened in that meeting. But more important is the result of that interview. Achebe offered Okey Ndibe an employment to be a founding Editor of an international magazine in the US. This was beginning of Okey Ndibe’s many hilarious adventures. Ndibe’s welcome in the US was not a warm one because he was greeted by a brutal cold weather and he was not in any way dressed or prepared for. However, before he left for the US, he had received all sorts of counsel but most important is the one that he received from his uncle which became the title of the book. According to his uncle, Americans abhorred anyone who looked them in the eye as it is seen as a form of disrespect. Also, his uncle said that every American carried a gun. Ndibe’s life in the US was not a smooth one but with every up and down experienced, it was a story that was waiting to unfold. While his uncle did hold some very funny beliefs of America, Ndibe discovered the funny beliefs Americans also had about Africa. There are other stories to recount but Ndibe points out areas that can be culturally shocking for a Nigerian and how he was able to navigate through these experiences. One that isn’t so surprising is the shallow understanding many Americans have of Africa. For many, it is just a place where animals live and people there have no access to civilisation. It is notions like this that make you grateful for the likes of Okey Ndibe who points out this ignorance and corrects them through the pens they wield. Another experience worth mentioning is in the chapter ‘Nigerian, Going Dutch’. Okey was asked to lunch by a lady (Karen) who he had decided to help find her Nigerian father. After the meal at the restaurant, Okey Ndibe did not know that he had to pay for his own food. He thought (like every Nigerian that if someone asks you to lunch, the person was going to pay) Karen would pay but unfortunately he found out that wasn’t the American way. He had to tell Karen he forgot his wallet in Nnaji’s office and asked her to loan him the money. As much as it was another orientation process for Ndibe, it was an orientation too for Karen because she also learnt how it is done in Nigeria. Okey also discovers how Americans hold their pet in high regards with tremendous amount of care much to his own amusement, he was shocked when someone says that she wasn’t planning on having children but the animals (cats and dogs) she has will suffice. As an African reading that, you might cringe a little because in Africa, having children is seen as a necessity. These are some stories that give you a glimpse of what life can be in America and how unnerving they can be for a Nigerian. He also recounted his experience with a police officer who mistook him to be a bank robber just because he fitted the description of a man who robbed a bank. The incidence though shocking to Ndibe revealed the disparity between the Nigerian police and the American police. He feared that the policeman being a policeman would cause him harm. His own awareness of how Nigerians had experiences of police brutality made him scared. However, he followed whatever orders he was given keeping his fears within himself. The policeman even responded after he was cleared of any wrongdoing “Thanks for being a gentleman”. Though, the crux of this story is not about disparities of law enforcement agencies of Nigeria and America but how this experience was an initiation into the American society. It became an educative experience for the author and a story he would tell for a long time. Ndibe also shares what inspires his writings and even how this career path as a writer began. Okey Ndibe does not hide his humorous tone but underlying it are lessons any upcoming writer should learn. Okey Ndibe’s love for books and reading helped his writing and also with the needed guidance of prolific writers he was able to produce his first novel. Ndibe further recounts his journey in writing but pauses to introduce us to his father’s friend Tucker. Ndibe interaction with his father’s English friend Tucker symbolically speaks to shared human experiences that pays no regards to race, ethnicity or beliefs. Tucker and Christopher (Ndibe’s father) had fought alongside each other during the world war. Despite the distance between them, they still wrote letters to each other. The relationship was “a friendship that breached several barriers… there was also the taboo of race, embodying all historical distrust between white and black. There was the line of religious affiliation: Tucker an Anglican prelate, my father a Catholic.” However for years, these two men had a beautiful friendship in spite of divides. More symbolic is how this friendship shows that it is possible to be from both worlds and live peaceably. Even when a person embodies both worlds as a Nigerian-American, both cultures can find a way to co-exist. Ndibe can be Nigerian as Nigerian can be and also be American as American can be. The book is a quick read. As a memoir, Okey Ndibe speaks of his development and transition as a writer more than he speaks of his transition and development as a person. Sometimes, he writes more about others than he writes about himself but in the end, sheds light on how all his encounters impacts him (albeit vaguely). He does not shy away from discussing the problems in the Nigerian political space. Though, he does this towards the end, he uses this to speak to the need for writers to be the voice that people need to hear and instigate the much needed change. “‘A story that must be told never forgives silence’…Those who shut their eyes in order to see no evil, to denounce none, those who plug their ears and gag their mouths, should be under no illusion. They may delude themselves, but they cannot enter a plea of innocence in history’s great carnages, its galleries of gore and horrors.” It is a good read and can be recommended to anyone who seeks to understand the intricacies of writing, immigration and post colonial discourse.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jenni V.

    I wasn't sure how to rate this one because I really liked the book but after hearing him speak at the Iowa City Book Festival, where he read a few of these chapters aloud and signed my book, just reading the rest didn't feel like enough. This would be great to listen to as an audiobook. It was interesting because he made a note in the book that as time has passed since he was stopped by the police because they were looking for a bank robber and he fit the description (basically, a black man), the I wasn't sure how to rate this one because I really liked the book but after hearing him speak at the Iowa City Book Festival, where he read a few of these chapters aloud and signed my book, just reading the rest didn't feel like enough. This would be great to listen to as an audiobook. It was interesting because he made a note in the book that as time has passed since he was stopped by the police because they were looking for a bank robber and he fit the description (basically, a black man), the tone in how he has told the story changed from dread to humor. He told that story in the reading I attended and it's true that he made it light and humorous, as he did other events that must have been very difficult at the time. Keeping it light doesn't mean he glosses over the struggles. It's the talent of a true writer to make you think without beating you over the head with the lessons he/she wants you learn, and Okey is a phenomenal writer. A Few Quotes from the Book "The books and journalism I consumed fueled my desire to write. I needed writing badly, needed it to save me from a career in the corporate world that my studies would sentence me to. Bohemian at heart and by habit, I dreaded the prospect of a regular eight-to-five job." "I sought to draw attention both to the rampancy of power abuse and to the repercussions of silence. Those who shut their eyes in order to see no evil, to denounce none, those who plug their ears and gag their mouths, should be under no illusion. They may delude themselves, but they cannot enter a plea of innocence in history's great carnages, its galleries of gore and horrors." Find all my reviews at: http://readingatrandom.blogspot.com

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Did I read the same book as everyone else? A couple of years or so ago I had read the author's 'Foreign Gods, Inc.' fiction book. It was a book that really worked for me but I thought the title was interesting and thought I'd give his memoir a go. How could I not consider a book when the title talks about flying turtles, colonial ghosts and the making of a Nigerian American?   Unfortunately the memoir was horribly disjointed and never captured me. As others say, the tone of the book is quite "jovi Did I read the same book as everyone else? A couple of years or so ago I had read the author's 'Foreign Gods, Inc.' fiction book. It was a book that really worked for me but I thought the title was interesting and thought I'd give his memoir a go. How could I not consider a book when the title talks about flying turtles, colonial ghosts and the making of a Nigerian American?   Unfortunately the memoir was horribly disjointed and never captured me. As others say, the tone of the book is quite "jovial" which is not necessarily a bad thing but this didn't seem like a nice flowing story of a memoir. Which didn't have to be that way either but I felt like it was more of a mishmash of anecdotes.   Numerically the book is short in length but it was a slog to get through. Perhaps he's just not a good fit for me and I'll skip his other works in the future. But it seems from other reviews that if you liked his 'Foreign Gods, Inc.' it might be a good read (but that's not a consistent pattern).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cyd

    I should admit upfront that I consider Okey Ndibe to be a friend. I enjoyed both of his novels, Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc. . I loved this short memoir which tells the story of how Okey came to the United States to edit "African Commentary" magazine at the behest of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe , and ends ultimately with meeting and marrying his wife. The journey is very much like talking to Okey himself: funny stories about being a new immigrant, some personal and political history, I should admit upfront that I consider Okey Ndibe to be a friend. I enjoyed both of his novels, Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc. . I loved this short memoir which tells the story of how Okey came to the United States to edit "African Commentary" magazine at the behest of Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe , and ends ultimately with meeting and marrying his wife. The journey is very much like talking to Okey himself: funny stories about being a new immigrant, some personal and political history, the occasional critique of American/western culture, and a few folktales thrown in.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter Certo

    the author is charming and intelligent, and the stories he tells pass by breezily enough. but while many of the stories about his african upbringing and early experiences with chinua achebe paint a fascinating picture of intellectual life at a pivotal time in nigeria, the american sections feel... undercooked. the cultural differences ndibe explores come off feeling superficial, or only mildly interesting, and the storytelling itself needs work. my interest in the book flagged toward the end, sa the author is charming and intelligent, and the stories he tells pass by breezily enough. but while many of the stories about his african upbringing and early experiences with chinua achebe paint a fascinating picture of intellectual life at a pivotal time in nigeria, the american sections feel... undercooked. the cultural differences ndibe explores come off feeling superficial, or only mildly interesting, and the storytelling itself needs work. my interest in the book flagged toward the end, save for a fascinating chapter about the authors attempts to trace his fathers unlikely 50-year friendship with an english officer he befriended in world war ii, a relationship that ndibe says transcended racial and colonial restrictions. that would have frankly made for a far more interesting book on its own.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elissa Sweet

    NEVER LOOK AN AMERICAN IN THE EYE is a delightful, absorbing memoir about cultural identity, one man's relentless pursuit of knowledge, and the struggle to honor your roots while also choosing a new life. Okey Ndibe's writing is insightful and poignant while also managing to be funny and self-deprecating, and his memoir—more a collection of essays and anecdotes—provides snippets of growing up in Nigeria, adjusting to the chilly culture of New England, finding love and friendship, developing his NEVER LOOK AN AMERICAN IN THE EYE is a delightful, absorbing memoir about cultural identity, one man's relentless pursuit of knowledge, and the struggle to honor your roots while also choosing a new life. Okey Ndibe's writing is insightful and poignant while also managing to be funny and self-deprecating, and his memoir—more a collection of essays and anecdotes—provides snippets of growing up in Nigeria, adjusting to the chilly culture of New England, finding love and friendship, developing his voice as a writer, and embracing becoming an American while still recognizing our country's cultural absurdities. An enjoyable, enlightening read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    This is a very difficult book to write a review on. First of all, this is a genre that I only dabble in, but I have always been fascinated by the experiences that other people have when they are first part of something that is my "normal." I think it opens one's eyes to how different we all are, and that one person's normal is another person's "completely insane." This is why I felt compelled to grab a book by a writer I'd never heard of, about a transition I'd never go through, to learn about a This is a very difficult book to write a review on. First of all, this is a genre that I only dabble in, but I have always been fascinated by the experiences that other people have when they are first part of something that is my "normal." I think it opens one's eyes to how different we all are, and that one person's normal is another person's "completely insane." This is why I felt compelled to grab a book by a writer I'd never heard of, about a transition I'd never go through, to learn about a land I'll likely never be able to visit. Okey Ndibe is an author who has written a few books, however rather than being a fiction novel, this is a personal series of essays - his own "Coming to America" only without Eddie Murphy and with a little more class. Each of these essays is in itself very well written and thought provoking. Most of the essays are interesting, I personally enjoyed the stories of his still being in Africa the most. Africa is a continent filled with a multitude of cultures, levels of socio-economic development, and various levels of political unrest. I was fortunate enough to have brushed over some African history while in high school, however much of that is now relegated to the back of my mind somewhere between the "I think I heard something about that once" section and "That sounds vaguely familiar." So to get back to the review - I found the essays that took place in Africa to be very interesting, as well as the essays on his father (which included a lot of Nigerian History that I will read more on later). His first experience of winter was also entertaining. Each of these essays is written with love of his new country for all of it's mysteries, strangeness, and different cultures. To the American reader it can be fun to see how things we take for granted as normal life to every one, can be so foreign to others. Where I found that I could not give this book the 4 or 5 stars that my soul wanted to, was the rather jarring and disjointed flow from one essay to another. Perhaps this was meant to be read a single essay at a time, with time between to soak up the feelings and ideas presented. But I read this from beginning to end on a flight from Detroit to LA, and followed it up with the new Neil Gaimen novel (I should have brought more books for the trip home). It was in the oddness in how the essays flowed that kept jerking me out of the happy reader cloud I was in while reading the actual essays. An example - before he leaves his homeland, his aunt asks him not to marry an American woman - so that they will be able to talk with his wife once he finds one. A few short essays later, he's clearly married and we have no idea where this woman came from or who she is... is she an "American woman?" or did he find someone from his homeland. Who is she? She seems like she should have gotten a little more page time because I assume the dating world in the US might have been a little different and could easily have played into the themes of the book. Then suddenly we get to the end where he meets his wife. Still almost no information about her whatsoever. Even though the book as a whole felt disjointed - one can't argue with the writing of the individual essays. They are a fascinating look into the experience of becoming an American. And even though I'm giving this book 3 stars (I'm still wavering between 3 and 4) I still think some of the essays (particularly the first one) should be mandatory high school reads.

  16. 4 out of 5

    DW

    Picked this up randomly because of the funny title, and the first two paragraphs sounded marvelously foreign. Overall, I quite liked it, particularly the stories about his time in Africa and when he first came to the States. The parts about him being in grad school were dull. I also didn't like how he interrupted his interesting story about needing to rush home on Christmas so he could eat chicken and rice, with several boring pages of backstory about important African writers and how he met one Picked this up randomly because of the funny title, and the first two paragraphs sounded marvelously foreign. Overall, I quite liked it, particularly the stories about his time in Africa and when he first came to the States. The parts about him being in grad school were dull. I also didn't like how he interrupted his interesting story about needing to rush home on Christmas so he could eat chicken and rice, with several boring pages of backstory about important African writers and how he met one of them. Of course the story was needed for the punchline, but it would have been better to do the backstory in advance, or at least limit it to a couple paragraphs at most. Most interesting stories: hero-worshipping Chinua Achebe for years, finally getting to meet him, interviewing him for three hours as his first assignment and not getting any tape recorded. (He actually went back and did another 1.5 hour interview, with three tape recorders, which is kind of amazing of Achebe.) The fact that he edited the magazine on scanty funds, had to explain to writers why they weren't being paid, and was himself paid only in groceries many weeks, so he had to beg and borrow money from friends to send to his family. Of course the mistaken bank robber story is great (Nigerian cops aren't polite, getting in a police car in Nigeria means you might get "wasted" (shot in some back alley)) mostly because he forgot to tell the kids that he had been cleared of the charge and the prof was arguing with the police that indeed that they had indeed arrested him when he turned up in his office. The one about him lying to the visa officer, being denied, then talking to his friend and getting the visa, was weird. Why couldn't he say just say he was going to edit a magazine? If he got the visa to attend a conference, wouldn't he be overstaying it? His unsuccessful attempt to show Americans that personal space is unnecessary by showing up at their house unannounced (I agree, somehow that doesn't work in America.) His father's letter-writing friendship with the British officer he served under during WWII. The stories about confusion because of his name sounding like "Okay". I doubt that people today would have swallowed his story about riding from Africa on the backs of crocodiles (well, anybody over the age of 5), or that Africans all lived in trees (I think that story was from the 1950's though). There were a couple stories I wanted to hear the other side of - surely Chinua Achebe wasn't that arbitrary and controlling? And the girl he didn't like because she invited him to lunch and then expected to go Dutch (in Nigeria the inviter pays) ... was it really an "accident" that her whole story of being illegitimate was printed in the newspaper advert meant to find her father? (That is pretty humiliating to have printed in a newspaper that your abandoned child is seeking you by name). His writing style was odd, filled with big words - cynosure? esophagi? Really? And after reading about how he is a gregarious and friendly storyteller, I was shocked to see the picture of him unsmiling and annoyed on the dustjacket. Especially after reading about how Nigerians never lack for friends unless they are extremely antisocial. Maybe that is the American thing, we all smile for pictures, but those smiles don't extend to being friends with everybody.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I saw this on the new non-fiction shelves at the public library. On the back cover it notes that Ndibe is the author of "Foreign Gods, Inc." which I had read about and have on a somewhat overly long list of things to read, so with this in hand I decided to give it a try (out of order, sort of - oh well). This is a pleasant first person memoir of a Nigerian coming to America, eventually becoming a citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen was not his intent when he arrived - he came to Boston to manage a n I saw this on the new non-fiction shelves at the public library. On the back cover it notes that Ndibe is the author of "Foreign Gods, Inc." which I had read about and have on a somewhat overly long list of things to read, so with this in hand I decided to give it a try (out of order, sort of - oh well). This is a pleasant first person memoir of a Nigerian coming to America, eventually becoming a citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen was not his intent when he arrived - he came to Boston to manage a new magazine, African Commentary. (The magazine turns out to be a hopeless endeavor, not because of the writing or topic but because it was underfinanced.) The book gives a good picture of Ndibe's life in Nigeria before coming to the U.S., then anecdotes, some humorous, about different encounters he had after arrival in America. As an articulate writer, Ndibe provides food for thought on the conflict immigrants must feel between the country and culture they have left (at least nominally) and their feelings for the United States. Some of that discussion or musings in the book are among the most interesting parts. I am not sure how to characterize English as a language for Ndibe - I'm not sure it is accurate to characterize it as a second language since he grew up reading and speaking English to some extent in Nigeria (if I'm understanding the book correctly). Still, for an easy going narrative memoir like this, sometimes I was alternatively intrigued or amused by Ndibe's word use - sometimes it was with Britishisms, like "cheeky," but also just surprising constructions and word choices - "the doleful sign was writ even more large for me" for example, or "the letter brimmed with resentment and outrage." As I hoped, I learned more about Nigeria in reading this, or was reminded of things I had known at one point but were not so clearly remembered now. The book is slightly more than 200 pages and I was drawn in sufficiently to read it from beginning to end without putting it aside because of some distraction (that is, another book).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marcy prager

    This is Okey Ndibe's memoir. His voice in different chapters are humorous, profound, or sad. Okey's first chapter described his family's poverty. As a child, Okey dreamed of food, of a fancy car, etc. He had an "itch" for America. When Okey met Professor Chinua Achebe when he was a new journalist in Nigeria, Okey interviewed Achebe and realized later that his tape recorder was not working. Okey had to call Achebe back and ask for a second interview. Sometime later, Chinua Achebe asked Okey if he This is Okey Ndibe's memoir. His voice in different chapters are humorous, profound, or sad. Okey's first chapter described his family's poverty. As a child, Okey dreamed of food, of a fancy car, etc. He had an "itch" for America. When Okey met Professor Chinua Achebe when he was a new journalist in Nigeria, Okey interviewed Achebe and realized later that his tape recorder was not working. Okey had to call Achebe back and ask for a second interview. Sometime later, Chinua Achebe asked Okey if he would be the founding editor of a magazine established in the U.S. called African Guardian. This was Okey's chance to scratch his itch. In the United States, when Okey, (pronounced okay), was in a grocery store, he was introduced as "Okey"by Okey's friend. The woman assumed that Okey's friend was saying that she was "okay" to "be" with Okey, and she left, quite angry at the assumption. Okey writes a few humorous anecdotes. One of the most earnest chapters was when Okey became an American citizen. "What did it mean, at bottom, that I had become, on that May morning, an American? Did becoming an American entail an obligation, as my mother no doubt feared, that I had "unbecome" what I had been before, an Igbo, a Nigerian, an African? Okey's reasons for becoming an American did not occur without profound thought that he expresses so beautifully in one of his chapters. I enjoyed reading each chapter, rereading parts that required "close reading" to fully understand Okey's meaning. Okey is wise, thoughtful, and full of energy. He loves other writers for their astute and insightful ideas about life. I wonder if Okey realizes, that he, too, is intense, earnest and every bit as intelligent "on paper" as those writers he reveres.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Okey Ndibe's memoir traces his journey from his Nigerian homeland to the United States, his adopted country. I enjoyed his commentary on Nigerian and American cultures, and his warmth and good humor made me wish that he were me real-life friend, the sort of friend who might drop by unannounced, Nigerian-style. Ndibe's frequent mentions of African authors who have influenced him made me resolve to read more books by African authors. The part of the book that moved me the most was Ndibe's tribute Okey Ndibe's memoir traces his journey from his Nigerian homeland to the United States, his adopted country. I enjoyed his commentary on Nigerian and American cultures, and his warmth and good humor made me wish that he were me real-life friend, the sort of friend who might drop by unannounced, Nigerian-style. Ndibe's frequent mentions of African authors who have influenced him made me resolve to read more books by African authors. The part of the book that moved me the most was Ndibe's tribute to his father, a loyal, loving husband whose demonstrative affection toward his wife was a violation of social norms. I was particularly touched by the chapter detailing his father's enduring friendship with a British man he met in World War 2. Why a 3-star rating, instead of 4 or 5 stars? The narrative jumped around chronologically, and though it didn't exactly feel cohesive, I didn't mind that. My main complaint was that Ndibe's long-windedness (which he admits to in the book) sometimes bordered on laboriousness. I thought that some of his stories could have been told in half the words. (I was listening to a recorded book, so it's difficult to tell how much of my impatience stemmed from the narrator's measured, detached, almost stilted style.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Uchenna (favourite_igbo_boy)

    This read was an interesting one (I love hearing stories alot), I enjoyed it but then we don't get what we want the exact way we want it. Okey has a story to tell but his way of storytelling didn't quite settle with me in this case. At some point the writer drift away from the flows, giving raise to an unsteady structure. The English language didn't work for me cos, it made the story not easy for me. I'd say, this read has now inspired my look into some acclaimed pioneer Nigerian authors literary w This read was an interesting one (I love hearing stories alot), I enjoyed it but then we don't get what we want the exact way we want it. Okey has a story to tell but his way of storytelling didn't quite settle with me in this case. At some point the writer drift away from the flows, giving raise to an unsteady structure. The English language didn't work for me cos, it made the story not easy for me. I'd say, this read has now inspired my look into some acclaimed pioneer Nigerian authors literary works. The lesson learnt is keep doing what you love doing and can do best no matter what field or area of specialty you find yourself in life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Noam

    Having read two novels by Okey Ndibe, I thought I'd check out his memoir. I would recommend it even if you've never read his novels. Interesting, insightful yet funny. It's one of those memoirs that makes you want to actually meet the author in person. The audiobook was narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez. At first, I found his detached, almost amused-sounding tone to clash with the text, but within a few chapters, the text started matching the narrator's tone. I wonder if he should have sounded a bi Having read two novels by Okey Ndibe, I thought I'd check out his memoir. I would recommend it even if you've never read his novels. Interesting, insightful yet funny. It's one of those memoirs that makes you want to actually meet the author in person. The audiobook was narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez. At first, I found his detached, almost amused-sounding tone to clash with the text, but within a few chapters, the text started matching the narrator's tone. I wonder if he should have sounded a bit less detached at the beginning, before the book became more humorous.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Harriet Levin

    I taught this book this term and the students loved it. It was a funny, heart-warming looking into an immigrant's adjustment to life in the US. The writing is exceptional and moves like a conversation you don't want to end. In fact, it was great to 'overhear' Ndibe's life-story. Wise and important, never overstating itself, the writing crackles and crunches, carrying the context in clear illumination of life as seen through the eyes of an outsider—a state of mind I am very interested in. I taught this book this term and the students loved it. It was a funny, heart-warming looking into an immigrant's adjustment to life in the US. The writing is exceptional and moves like a conversation you don't want to end. In fact, it was great to 'overhear' Ndibe's life-story. Wise and important, never overstating itself, the writing crackles and crunches, carrying the context in clear illumination of life as seen through the eyes of an outsider—a state of mind I am very interested in.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This was a strange book. I thought it would be funnier. It was disjointed, the writing seemed awkward, he used words, incorrectly sometimes, that came right from the thesaurus and often sounded pretentious while he criticized other writers for doing the same thing. There was no order or continuity to the essays. I'm guessing that if he had an editor at all, he ignored any advice the editor gave him. It was just okay. I might try his fiction but then again, I might not. This was a strange book. I thought it would be funnier. It was disjointed, the writing seemed awkward, he used words, incorrectly sometimes, that came right from the thesaurus and often sounded pretentious while he criticized other writers for doing the same thing. There was no order or continuity to the essays. I'm guessing that if he had an editor at all, he ignored any advice the editor gave him. It was just okay. I might try his fiction but then again, I might not.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    While I'm not generally a fan of memoir, Okey Ndibe's collection reflections is exceptional. It felt like each story was carefully crafted - a stray detail here would set up an important plot point there. His examination of Nigerian stereotypes of Americans, and American stereotypes of Africans was particularly insightful, as was his exploration of his father's experience in the colonial Britain army and an enduring friendship with a white chaplain. While I'm not generally a fan of memoir, Okey Ndibe's collection reflections is exceptional. It felt like each story was carefully crafted - a stray detail here would set up an important plot point there. His examination of Nigerian stereotypes of Americans, and American stereotypes of Africans was particularly insightful, as was his exploration of his father's experience in the colonial Britain army and an enduring friendship with a white chaplain.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    *** Thanks to the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review *** Beautifully written memoir chronicling what happens when two cultures collide. My one criticism is that the stories were for the most part light hearted and funny, but the writing style didn't match. Too wordy to be accessible to a mainstream audience. *** Thanks to the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review *** Beautifully written memoir chronicling what happens when two cultures collide. My one criticism is that the stories were for the most part light hearted and funny, but the writing style didn't match. Too wordy to be accessible to a mainstream audience.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A light-hearted, positive account of one man's immigrant experience. Ndibe is probably more optimistic and accepting of the foibles (and downright trials) that happen to him as he navigates life in America, but his warmth and determination shine through. And, because he's a writer/editor - and at heart, a storyteller - his tales keep a reader's attention. A light-hearted, positive account of one man's immigrant experience. Ndibe is probably more optimistic and accepting of the foibles (and downright trials) that happen to him as he navigates life in America, but his warmth and determination shine through. And, because he's a writer/editor - and at heart, a storyteller - his tales keep a reader's attention.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olofinkua Joseph

    Not quiye sure what to make of this book. It delights at the same time educated. So amazing how the life of one man can be such an adventure, just by making those unknowing decisions. You get the sense that he knows his life story will be written down someday for others to read. A well structured book with words right where they are meant to appear. Just perfect.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    The title comes from advice Ndibe received from his relatives before he came to American in the 90s, because they believed that all Americans own guns, will find eye contact disrespectful, and will shoot you. Highlights North American customs that we take for granted and explains one Nigerian expat's experience here. The title comes from advice Ndibe received from his relatives before he came to American in the 90s, because they believed that all Americans own guns, will find eye contact disrespectful, and will shoot you. Highlights North American customs that we take for granted and explains one Nigerian expat's experience here.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Onyemelukwe

    Lots of fun to read. How true - the way an African first experiences race in America is so different from the way American Blacks experience it. Okey shares his own experiences on race and other issues with humor and insight.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Garrett

    I really liked this book. It was insightful, interesting, and often humorous. It's also fascinating to see how the world perceives America (or perceived America thirty years ago, in this case). Okey Ndibe is an amazing writer and I would certainly recommend this book to everyone! I really liked this book. It was insightful, interesting, and often humorous. It's also fascinating to see how the world perceives America (or perceived America thirty years ago, in this case). Okey Ndibe is an amazing writer and I would certainly recommend this book to everyone!

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