Hillary Clinton in ‘Americanah’

(Courtesy of Knopf)
(Courtesy of Knopf)

Today, as you may have heard, marks the official publication date of “Hard Choices,” by presidential undecider Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you look hard enough, you may be able to find some commentary about it on the Internet. . . .

But what about writers who want their words to hang around a while?

Novelists face a difficult choice when considering how to handle real contemporary events: Avoid the news entirely, and your novel seems to float in a strangely artificial realm; nod to the news, and your novel soon sounds dated.

Or not.

A year ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published “Americanah” about an Nigerian immigrant named Ifemelu. (It went on to win the National Book Critics Circle fiction award.) Deep in the story, as the 2008 election approaches, Ifemelu is trying to decide between Barack Obama — “too slight, too skinny” — or You Know Who:

“Hillary Clinton was sturdier. Ifemelu liked to watch Clinton on television, in her square trouser suits, her face a mask of resolve, her prettiness disguised, because that was the only way to convince the world that she was able. Ifemelu liked her. She wished her victory, willed good fortune her way.”

Still nothing dated about that.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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