To my shame – and despite owning a number of her books – I’ve never read any of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. That is until very recently, when I picked up her latest release Notes on Grief.
As is perhaps evident through my reviews on this site, I’m always really compelled to read anything which explores grief and loss. I often find reading about it very stirring and comforting. Adichie’s contribution chronicles her experience of grief following the death of her beloved father, James Nwoye Adichie, in 2020. It was first shared as a long read by the New York Times, and was recently expanded and published as a lovely mini-hardback by HarperCollins.
For reasons I’m struggling to understand, Notes on Grief did not resonate with me as much as I’d hoped. I think, perhaps, her loss felt a little alien to me. While I myself have lost my Mum, I lost her very young, and never had the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with her in adulthood. Adichie’s father died at a much older age. Her loss, while no less devastating, therefore felt a little disparate to me.
Any loss of resonance, however, was entirely personal. There is no denying Adichie’s power as a writer, and her encapsulation of the pain and anger of grief – so fresh and incomprehensible at time of writing – is frequently stunning. Some of the lines I found most striking include:
I finally understand why people get tattoos of those they have lost. The need to proclaim not merely the loss but the love, the continuity. I am my father’s daughter. It is an act of resistance and refusal: grief telling you it is over and your heart saying it is not; grief trying to shrink your love to the past and your heart saying it is present.
The news is like a vicious uprooting. I am yanked away from the world I have known since childhood.
How quickly my life has become another life, how pitiless this becoming is, and yet how slow I am to adapt.
There is a desperation to shrug off this burden, and then a competing longing to cosset it, to hold it close. Is it possible to be possessive of one’s pain? I want to become known to it, I want it known to me. So precious was my bond with my father that I cannot lay open my suffering until I have discerned its contours.
‘Never’ has come to stay. ‘Never’ feels so unfairly punitive. For the rest of my life, I will live with my hands outstretched for things that are no longer there.
Her inexhaustible love, devotion and agony are palpable, and so finely expressed. I’m certain I’ll come back to the book again someday, for its frank wisdom and subtle, unfurling layers of meaning and experience. It goes without saying that Adichie is a master of her craft. Notes on Grief has made me as keen as ever to dive into more of her work – the beautiful, heartbreaking simplicity of its ending especially:
Grief has, as one of its many egregious components, the onset of doubt. No, I am not imagining it. Yes, my father truly was lovely.