adichie-bruce-lee-new-yorker-storyThe April 15 issue of the New Yorker has a story by Chimamanda Adichie, titled “Apollo.” Don’t get your hopes up. The story is not about space shuttles and thersmospheric exploration. In Nigeria, Apollo is the colloquial name for the eye infection called conjunctivitis.

The story traces the budding intimacy between a boy named Okenwa and Raphael, a house-help, and how their vulnerabilities while being infected with Apollo results in the making and breaking of their relationship.

We first meet Okenwa when he is older. An incident triggers memories of childhood days spent with Raphael, watching Bruce Lee movies and sharing small moments of intimacy charged with homo-erotic intensity.

There are people who would read the story and want to talk about Adichie’s commentary on social class and oppression.

But what impressed me are the small moments—like when Bruce Lee enters the story with an almost ghostly intensity to transact the relationship between a boy and the domestic worker he was expected to look down upon.

I love that Adichie goes off on a tangent about the “nunchaku”—a karate training instrument that features a lot in Bruce Lee movies.

In some ways, the story is told like a kung fu narrative—the familiar motif of a wise master and an adoring but fickle student.

I think it’s cute that Okenwa, the main character in the story, finds books and reading boring. His power of imagination takes flight when he encounters Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” and not so much when he reads Great Expectations.

Finally, I like the flitting but palpable moments when Raphael’s leaping, kicking, taut, and graceful pubescent male body is put up on display, contrasted with the aging, menthol-smothered body of Okenwa’s parents.

I really like that the story is about retrospection and how the loss, within time, of a moment in the past can give memory a kind of sad, dreamy texture that storytellers sometimes call melancholy.

I’ll now let you read the story. Leave a comment about your thoughts on the story or on your feelings about Adichie and he work.

What I loved was kung fu. I watched “Enter the Dragon” so often that I knew all the lines, and I longed to wake up and be Bruce Lee. I would kick and strike at the air, at imaginary enemies who had killed my imaginary family. I would pull my mattress onto the floor, stand on two thick books—usually hardcover copies of “Black Beauty” and “The Water-Babies”—and leap onto the mattress, screaming “Haaa!” like Bruce Lee. One day, in the middle of my practice, I looked up to see Raphael standing in the doorway, watching me. I expected a mild reprimand. He had made my bed that morning, and now the room was in disarray. Instead, he smiled, touched his chest, and brought his finger to his tongue, as though tasting his own blood. My favorite scene. I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. “I watched the film in the other house where I worked,” he said. “Look at this.” Read more



Image by Lexinatrix via Flickr.

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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Adichie’s Dreamy Little Story About Bruce Lee and Apollo” Subscribe

  1. Hagai 2015/04/07 at 7:04 pm #

    I felt like the story narration is forced. more like she had a creative writing checklist and hence the narrative lost its “chamamandaness” if I should say (originarity). my all time favourite of hers is Tomorrow is too far, and it was toned down a bit. so, I wish she had toned down the story a bit so that whatever metaphor/literary device remained would be more emphasized.

    please, read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story interpletor of maladies (its from a collection by the same name – won the Pulitzer.) compare it to the narration of chimamanda’s Apollo and maybe you will agree with me that Apollo feels a bit “buggy” and like a checklist narration.

    overall… good story… it brought out the theme at the climax, which I liked and its just like Chimamanda went past her usual themes, she took us to another landscape. so I would say it is one of her best.

  2. Ifueko 2015/04/09 at 7:53 pm #

    Great story, beautifully written, But Okenwa acted a little bit feminine to me, I actually thought he had sexual feelings for Raphael.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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