The director of Boston University’s African American studies explores how his complicated life history—from living in the short-lived African nation of Biafra, to Jamaica, to the harshest streets of Los Angeles—has woven his even more complex identity.
... Chude-Sokei writes from that space outside, detailing with unflinching directness the confusion, isolation, horror and bizarre humor of his life as a child born to a high-ranking Biafran major father and a Jamaican mother in the midst of civil war in Nigeria ... Chude-Sokei’s prose is both direct and poetic, describing horrific trauma with such flat immediacy that at times I had to set the book down for a moment, just to process what I was reading ... I cringed with recognition as Chude-Sokei attempts and fails to escape American racism by embracing his African forebears’ prejudice against Black Americans. But Chude-Sokei resists editorializing. There are no life lessons, no rationalizations of the bigotry and violence that exist in a diaspora so ravaged by white colonialism. We must look at the author’s story, see how messy it is, and try to figure out why alongside him. Reading this book I wondered if white readers would get its complexity ... Herein lies the beauty of Floating in a Most Peculiar Way: It reveals how we carry trauma with us, how that trauma can cause us to hurt one another, and how we still love and carry one another with wounds unhealed ... There were times when I enjoyed this book and times when I felt like I survived it, but there was never a time when I did not find myself within it.
From the start it is clear Floating in a Most Peculiar Way is going to be a journey of discovery like few others ... The simplicity of the language makes it all the more heartbreaking ... The search for his homeland, his father and who he is are all central themes in Chude-Sokei’s memoir, but this is not a dry self-absorbed academic exploration, although Chude-Sokei is in fact an academic. It is a story with an imperfect protagonist whose honesty and, even his anger, make him endearing ... Chude-Sokei’s life has been challenging. Still, he does not dwell on his hardships, instead they are mere backdrops for his stories. This is narrative storytelling at its best; the story moves along through action and objects. There are the things Chude-Sokei must leave behind in Jamaica—and the people attached to them. It is through these objects that he talks about his molestation, almost like a footnote ... In talking about race and identity Chude-Sokei is brutally honest ... The issues he raises are serious and heavy. Chude-Sokei doesn’t shy away from their complexity. But he also doesn’t stray into theory and the abstract. Chude-Sokei’s life is a lived one, with all its imperfections and disappointments. The memoir could be dark, but it is not. Chude-Sokei’s story doesn’t come together perfectly in an uplifting ending. His is a more complete story that uses humor to light the darkness ... While few of us know what it is like to be from a country that doesn’t exist almost all of us can relate to the egg story, and that is the true beauty of this book.
Searching for one’s identity can be a vertiginous experience, especially for an immigrant shuffling from one culture to another. In Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, Louis Chude-Sokei cannily captures this tumbling free fall through a variety of cultures as he negotiates what it means to be African in Jamaica and the United States ... a compelling story of the challenges of living what feels like 'life on Mars.'