Thursday, May 05, 2016

Book Review: Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking

 Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen

Before picking up this book, my knowledge of Stephen Hawking could fit into maybe two sentences: He has something like ALS. He's a super-genius science guy who talks about black holes. 

Both of those are true, but of course there is so much more. This book, written by Jane Hawking, is a fascinating story about Stephen Hawking's meteoric rise to scientific fame, as well as his descent into physical immobility. 

Ms. Hawking details how they met in their later teen years (through Stephen's sister) and their decision to marry, despite his diagnosis of motor neurone disease, with it's bleak prognosis. Through years of struggling to obtain disability assistance from Britain's National Health Service, and navigating the globe without the handicap accessibility we take for granted these days, Stephen thrived in academia and the Hawking children grew under Ms. Hawking's steady and constant care. 

Hawking's struggles are detailed and persistent in this book. She pulls no punches, calling out people and institutions who failed to offer support. But she also heralds the many people and institutions who provide unflagging encouragement and assistance. The book is not bitter, but one can not fail to wonder how she managed to escape developing an entirely bitter outlook on life. 

The edition I read had two postscripts, written as the book was re-published after it's original 2007 release. The story has also been made into a movie, "The Theory of Everything," which came out in 2015.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Book Review: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


This is the story of  Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who emigrate from Nigeria to two different countries and then come home again. I'm not sure how this book came to me, but I sure didn't want to let it go back to the library. I am quite certain, however, that I decided to read this book solely based on my experience another Adichie book, "Purple Hibiscus." Her absorbing storytelling, done with some of the best prose I can remember ever reading, is both entertaining and educational. 

Adichie's observations about human behavior touch home. As you read her books, you often find yourself realizing, "Of course! I've seen people do and say those things and now I get a glimpse of understanding the thought process behind it!" 

Ifemelu came to the U.S. as a student on an education visa. Her education in Nigeria was frustrating as she tried to find continuity in a time of turmoil that caused work stoppages, power outages, and government upheaval. In the U.S, she moved in with her aunt who had emigrated here with her young son. Ifemelu's struggles to find work and become self-sufficient were tough, but she survived the hardship to become a blogger and speaker with a focus on race issues. Her assessment of racism in America, and her observations of the heirarchy of non-white people is compelling and familiar. 

Ifemelu's childhood friend and teenage lover, Obinze, emigrated illegally to the U.K. His plan was also to pursue education, but he did not have the benefit of family or government assistance. His part of the story is short but sometimes brutal, as he tried to work under a borrowed National Health card.

Both Ifemelu and Obinze end up back in Nigeria. I won't tell you how that happened for each of them, so as to not spoil the story.  They find their way to each back in Nigeria, which is the third component to the story. 

One of the most compelling passages of the book, to me, is when Adichie has a character that contrast racial attitudes in the U.S. with those in the U.K. 

There are time, particularly when Adichie inserts some of Ifemelu's blog entries, where the book drags for a few pages. But there are reasons for those entries, and they don't detract from the story.

Get this book. Then read "Purple Hibiscus" too.