Tuesday evenings in Nsukka are always parched up. The university community is edging closer to its second semester exams. I’m lying down on my bed, surfing the web, while pretending to be studying. My Facebook News Feed is drowning with links on the GOP, the shocking but revealing poll results, Bernie’s larger-than-life promises, Hillary’s emotionally-pepped campaigns and Trump’s racial and misogynistic slurs. I love the creative meme, especially the one in which Meryl Streep impersonates Trump. Because of America’s political and economic influence and because the future of the world largely depends on it, I (out of compulsion) follow the US election to the letter. It was in this state of mental limbo that I stumbled upon “The Arrangements,” Adichie’s recent short story, which the The NYT Review of Books commissioned.
In African political discourse, Donald Trump is often caricatured. Africans have well-informed opinions about the man: “A quintessentially blonde rich dude who has a long-running bad-hair day, an immigrant and Muslim ‘hater.'” So, a work of fiction depicting his private life was too irresistible to ignore. I mean, it’s Donald Trump. Trump like Trump. Trump that utters the unsayable. Trump that could be easily rated as the most interesting character in the 2016 US election. That the work was written by a toweringly creative African writer was a bonus endearment.
Naturally, I had prior misgivings and tensions about how well Adichie could execute such a story. Obviously, being black, immigrant and feminist, Adichie was no fan of Trump. Also, delving into Trump’s life through the eyes of Melania, Trump’s European wife, might prove a little tricky for a black female writer or American-African (as she chooses to call herself). Adichie clearly established a parity of discourse, gave Trump the humanity he deserved, weighed this humanity on a balance and allowed her readers to form their opinions. One could easily praise the writer’s chameleonic ability to enter into the ebullient world of Fey, Peonies, Veneer, Pilates and Vegan Recipes of a top class white woman. So masterful was Adichie in bringing trump’s world it got me wondering whether she had been white in her former life or had placed a bug on Melania or had stalked under the luxury king-sized bed in Trump’s mansion for months.
Like all Adichie’s fiction and nonfiction works, “The Arrangements” employs the One-Step-Removed technique. Adichie cashes in on Melania’s seemingly boring and monotonous life as a rich white American housewife to capture the life of Donald Trump, his daughters and his unquestionable love for them, Melania’s son, who doesn’t like the much fuss about family gathering, and the US election. Melania firmly controls the story, as Edoro of Brittle Paper mentioned in her review: “We see the story through her eyes.” The writer’s total annihilation of surnames in the story made the characters believable, more human, easy to empathize with and easy to understand. Even the ‘almighty Trump’ was humbled. For a moment, it became easy to imagine a day in the life of an ‘Ordinary Trump.’ We see a kind of correspondence between Melania and Adichie herself. They are both originally not from the US. Melania grew up in Sevnica, Slovania, while Adichie grew up in Nsukka, Nigeria. Like Ifemelu in Americanah, Melania observes intently, watches from a distance of luxurious peace, analyzes critically, internalizes facts and sifts out myths.
Adichie once called the US “A rich uncle that gives me money and doesn’t remember my name.” Like all rich uncles, the US always wants to know the third-party’s take on their lifestyle, politics, economy, education and movies. This we-admire-outsiders-but-we-care-less-about-their-opinions is further accentuated in Trump’s mentions of Europe to spite Melania even as he uses the term “European”in an aspirational sense.
Let’s get to the more interesting part of the story: sex. Yes, sex. Adichie is one of the few African writers who can effortlessly pull off a sex scene without making it creepy, lumpy or hanging on a loose balance. Watching Trump on TV with his whole Mexico-Will-Pay-For-The-Wall drama, it is impossible to imagine him as a sexual being. But Adichie explores, even though briefly, what it might be like being in bed with a man like Trump. In the end, we see that Trump is just human and battles with the same issues we all have—pride, childishness, selfishness, over-importance, unattractive parenting style, and a bloated ego.
“The Arrangements” is part of a series of stories being published by The New York Times Review of Books. Well-known writers are asked to write a short story about the American election. My palms are already in sweaty anticipation of the next story? Who would write it? Whom would it be about? Hillary, Bernie, Carson?
Post image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.
About the Author:
Innocent Chizaram Ilo has a tiny transistor radio at the back of his head that tells him that he is a writer. He is currently in his penultimate year at the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
Image source from Instagram @ethereal_ilo.