BOOKS

Americannah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0

At work we formed a book club and Americannah was the first book we read.

The story was pretty conventional: Ifemelu, a Nigerian girl, grows up lower-middle class but upwardly aspiring in Nigeria with her family and friends including the handsome Obinze. Eventually she moves to the American East Coast and lives, camouflaged, within the American-Black experience. She lives as an exotic trophy of a white boyfriend, the insufficiently politically-active girlfriend to a somewhat narcissistic Yale intellectual during the Obama ascendancy, and ultimately as a single woman bound back to Nigeria to pursue a lost connection.

In parallel, her friend, Obinze, enters England illegally and works to evade immigration nets. His experience doesn’t seem to provide the same level of growth and kindness for it’s bound up in desperation. He scrabbles hard and tries to find a foothold in the soggy shores of England but fails. Ultimately Obinze is deported back to Nigeria where he must make a go at success on different terms.

While the plot was sufficient to carry the characters forward, I didn’t find that its internal structure was used in any novel way. The experiences were rather pedestrian and uninspired and felt like set-dressing where Adichie’s beautiful sentences could fall like gilded feathers onto set stages. Many times I didn’t care about the plot details but was attentively reading so that I could find the next immaculately-constructed one-liner from her pen. To wit:

  • “How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined.”
  • Everybody is hungry in this country, even the rich men are hungry, but nobody is honest.
  • Why didn’t she just ask ‘Was it the black girl or the white girl?’” Ginika laughed. “Because this is America. You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things.”

Check out the notes after the jump for some wonderful quotes if you want a compressed version of the story.

In retrospect, one aspect of Ifemelu is her own sense of education and ambition. She’s clearly bright, but I don’t recall her having much of a life outside of being a student, pleasing her parents, or considering her romantic relationships. As I recall she achieves a high level of scholarship, but it seems like those achievements were tools to get her to a new location or into a new social milieu. I think her characterization was thin.

SPOILERS Also, I really didn’t like the circumstances of her relationship with Obinze. While we’re rooting for them to be together and have a happy life forever, there’s far too much collateral damage to Obinze’s life that’s shrugged off. Obinze, having become wealthy and successful, leaves his devoted (yet commercially oriented and somewhat dim) wife and children to be with Ifemelu. It rang flat for me because Obinze was so principled in all of his other dealings. It felt like the book ran out of steam, we were given the ending we wanted and THE end. It felt very of and phoned-in.

{
  "title": "Americanah",
  "author": "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie",
  "highlightCount": 123,
  "noteCount": 1,
  "annotations": [
    {
      "highlight": "she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club,",
      "location": 76,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the familiarity strangers adopt with each other after sharing in the disappointment of a public service.",
      "location": 83,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "People were flattered to be asked about themselves and if she said nothing after they spoke, it made them say more.",
      "location": 87,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her.",
      "location": 148,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted?",
      "location": 153,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the suggestion, that she was somehow irrevocably altered by America, had grown thorns on her skin.",
      "location": 322,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined.",
      "location": 332,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Big Men and Big Women, Obinze would later learn, did not talk to people, they instead talked at people,",
      "location": 444,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "to have money, it seemed, was to be consumed by money.",
      "location": 460,
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "Everybody is hungry in this country, even the rich men are hungry, but nobody is honest.",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "Obinze had always been struck by how important it was to her to be a wholesomely agreeable person, to have no sharp angles sticking out.",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "She was taking two sides at once, to please everyone; she always chose peace over truth,",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "humility had always seemed to him a specious thing, invented for the comfort of others; you were praised for humility by people because you did not make them feel any more lacking than they already did.",
      "location": 600,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Even her voice, usually high-pitched and feminine, had deepened and curdled.",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ifemelu’s father once said the prayers were delusional battles with imaginary traducers,",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "her mother’s ability to tell herself stories about her reality that did not even resemble her reality.",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "Her mother’s words too easily wounded him; he was too alert to her, his ears always pricked up at her voice, his eyes always rested on her.",
      "location": 801,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "his mannered English bothered her as she got older, because it was costume, his shield against insecurity.",
      "location": 812,
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was haunted by what he did not have—a postgraduate degree, an upper-middle-class life—and so his affected words became his armor.",
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    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ifemelu folded her arms, and as often happened when she was about to say something she knew was better unsaid, the words rushed up her throat.",
      "location": 866,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She wished she had said nothing.",
      "location": 875,
      "annotation": "Similarity to father"
    },
    {
      "highlight": "like Sister Ibinabo, she was a person who denied that things were as they were. A person who had to spread the cloak of religion over her own petty desires.",
      "location": 879,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It had all seemed benign before, her mother’s faith, all drenched in grace, and suddenly it no longer was.",
      "location": 881,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "mother was not her mother, and for this she felt not guilt and sadness but a single emotion, a blend of guilt and sadness.",
      "location": 882,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She had always got along with Ifemelu’s mother, the easy relationship between two people who carefully avoided conversations of any depth.",
      "location": 897,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was tall and rangy, with the easy manner of the entitled.",
      "location": 948,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.",
      "location": 1035,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Emenike who made up stories of rich parents that everyone knew he didn’t have, so immersed in his need to invent a life that was not his.",
      "location": 1127,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Where do they come from? These people that appear once there is an accident?”",
      "location": 1338,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It’s never the same when you have other choices.”",
      "location": 1341,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "in the landscape of her imagination, the mundane things in America were covered in a high-shine gloss.",
      "location": 1774,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She was disoriented by the blandness of fruits, as though Nature had forgotten to sprinkle some seasoning on the oranges and the bananas,",
      "location": 1932,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "it was the commercials that captivated her. She ached for the lives they showed, lives full of bliss, where all problems had sparkling solutions in shampoos and cars and packaged foods, and in her mind they became the real America, the America she would only see when she moved to school in the autumn.",
      "location": 1939,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "You are in a country that is not your own. You do",
      "location": 2028,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Why didn’t she just ask ‘Was it the black girl or the white girl?’ ” Ginika laughed. “Because this is America. You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things.”",
      "location": 2148,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "for Kimberly, the poor were blameless. Poverty was a gleaming thing; she could not conceive of poor people being vicious or nasty because their poverty had canonized them, and the greatest saints were the foreign poor.",
      "location": 2543,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "he would flirt outrageously but not do more, because an affair would require some effort and he was the kind of man who took but did not give.",
      "location": 2744,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It was an aggressive, unaffectionate interest; strange indeed, to pay so much attention to something you did not like.",
      "location": 2779,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Kimberly’s repeated apologies were tinged with self-indulgence, as though she believed that she could, with apologies, smooth all the scalloped surfaces of the world.",
      "location": 2783,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Kimberly’s unhappiness was inward, unacknowledged, shielded by her desire for things to be as they should, and also by hope: she believed in other people’s happiness because it meant that she, too, might one day have it.",
      "location": 2797,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ifemelu was surprised that he seemed to recognize the ego of others, while blinded in the fog of his own.",
      "location": 2830,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It was like a conjurer’s trick, the swift disappearance of his hostility. His face sank into a grin. She, too, was the help. The universe was once again arranged as it should be. “How are you doing?",
      "location": 2837,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "In America’s public discourse, “Blacks” as a whole are often lumped with “Poor Whites.” Not Poor Blacks and Poor Whites. But Blacks and Poor Whites. A curious thing indeed.",
      "location": 2843,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "To overwhelm a child of four with choices, to lay on her the burden of making a decision, was to deprive her of the bliss of childhood. Adulthood, after all, already loomed, where she would have to make grimmer and grimmer decisions.",
      "location": 2865,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ifemelu knew that for a long time afterwards, she would not unwrap from herself the pashmina of the wounded.",
      "location": 2890,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "mostly from bearing and demeanor, that fine-grained mark that culture stamps on people.",
      "location": 3022,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He spoke the kind of American English that she had just given up, the kind that made race pollsters on the telephone assume that you were white and educated.",
      "location": 3033,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Aunty Uju sat at the table drinking orange juice and airing her grievances like jewels.",
      "location": 3122,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Aunty Uju collected all her dissatisfactions in a silk purse, nursing them, polishing them, and then on the Saturday of Ifemelu’s visit, while Bartholomew was out and Dike upstairs, she would spill them out on the table, and turn each one this way and that, to catch the light.",
      "location": 3123,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.",
      "location": 3239,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "with Curt that she had first looked in the mirror and, with a flush of accomplishment, seen someone else.",
      "location": 3272,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "she thought that the romance novelists were wrong and it was men, not women, who were the true romantics.",
      "location": 3328,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Don thought she was attractive and interesting, and thought Curt was attractive and interesting, but it did not occur to him to think of both of them, together, entangled in the delicate threads of romance.",
      "location": 3343,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It felt a sacrilege to discuss Obinze, to refer to him as an “ex,” that flippant word that said nothing and meant nothing.",
      "location": 3360,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She was lighter and leaner; she was Curt’s Girlfriend, a role she slipped into as into a favorite, flattering dress. She laughed more because he laughed so much. His optimism blinded her. He was full of plans.",
      "location": 3367,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was her adventurer who would bring back exotic species—he had dated a Japanese girl, a Venezuelan girl—but would, with time, settle down properly. She would tolerate anybody he liked, but she felt no obligation for affection.",
      "location": 3392,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The verve was gone. She did not recognize herself. She left the salon almost mournfully; while the hairdresser had flat-ironed the ends, the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died, had made her feel a sense of loss.",
      "location": 3489,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him that it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being.",
      "location": 3556,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.",
      "location": 3559,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Obinze back to a time when he still believed the universe would bend according to his will.",
      "location": 3942,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was in England for three years and spoke to her only a few times, strained conversations during which he imagined she was wondering",
      "location": 3988,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "There was, in this performance, something of an unbuttoning. A person who had been fired? Denied a promotion?",
      "location": 4009,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It puzzled him that she did not mourn all the things she could have been. Was it a quality inherent in women, or did they just learn to shield their personal regrets, to suspend their lives, subsume themselves in child care?",
      "location": 4128,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "These white people think that everybody has their mental problems.”",
      "location": 4137,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "His was the coiled, urgent restlessness of a person who believed that fate had mistakenly allotted him a place below his true destiny.",
      "location": 4183,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "For such people, Obinze felt both admiration and boredom.",
      "location": 4218,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the influx into Britain of black and brown people from countries created by Britain.",
      "location": 4381,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "that Nigerian ability to laugh, to so easily reach for amusement. He had missed that. “We laugh too much,” his mother once said. “Maybe we should laugh less and solve our problems more.”",
      "location": 4794,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It puzzled her, the ability of romantic love to mutate, how quickly a loved one could become a stranger. Where did the love go?",
      "location": 4840,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "her amusement curdled into exhaustion.",
      "location": 4913,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "There were, simply, times that he saw and times that he was unable to see.",
      "location": 4936,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was small and bespectacled, a gentleman and a gentle man;",
      "location": 5031,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He looked at Aunty Uju with translucent eyes, those of a man who wanted the world to know how much he loved.",
      "location": 5034,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She watched them with a sneer, and for this she felt guilty; she had guarded their memories so preciously and yet, finally seeing them, she watched them with a sneer.",
      "location": 5050,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The point of diversity workshops, or multicultural talks, was not to inspire any real change but to leave people feeling good about themselves.",
      "location": 5105,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "They did not want the content of her ideas; they merely wanted the gesture of her presence.",
      "location": 5106,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He would be a perfect father, this man of careful disciplines.",
      "location": 5186,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He was like a salutary tonic; with him, she could only inhabit a higher level of goodness.",
      "location": 5192,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "They looked at the world with an impractical, luminous earnestness that moved her, but never convinced her.",
      "location": 5246,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the air simply floated towards her, drawn by her natural authority, until there was nothing left for others.",
      "location": 5287,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Shan had the air of a person who was somehow chosen. The gods had placed a wand on her. If she did ordinary things, they became enigmatic.",
      "location": 5309,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Her body was a collection of graceful small curves, her buttocks, her breasts, her calves, and there was in her movement the entitlement of the chosen; she could stretch her leg on her dining table whenever she wanted, even with a guest in her apartment.",
      "location": 5315,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Shan dripped power, a subtle and devastating kind.",
      "location": 5336,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the unbending, unambiguous honesties that Americans required in relationships.",
      "location": 5351,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "They wore their love like a heavy perfume, exuding a transparent commitment, touching each other, referring to each other.",
      "location": 5390,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Black writers who do literary fiction in this country, all three of them, not the ten thousand who write those bullshit ghetto books with the bright covers, have two choices: they can do precious or they can do pretentious. When you do neither, nobody knows what to do with you.",
      "location": 5637,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It was true that race was not embroidered in the fabric of her history; it had not been etched on her soul. Still, she wished Shan had said this to her when they were alone, instead of saying it now, so jubilantly, in front of friends, and leaving Ifemelu with an embittered knot, like bereavement, in her chest.",
      "location": 5659,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The actual tragedy of Emmett Till, he had told her once, was not the murder of a black child for whistling at a white woman but that some black people thought: But why did you whistle?",
      "location": 5756,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Blaine looked at her with surprise. “Shan is one of the most fragile people in the world. She’s not strong, she’s never been. But she’s special.”",
      "location": 6017,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Barack Obama’s voice rose and fell, his face solemn, and around him the large and resplendent crowd of the hopeful. Ifemelu watched, mesmerized. And there was, at that moment, nothing that was more beautiful to her than America.",
      "location": 6062,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He had at first been excited by Facebook, ghosts of old friends suddenly morphing to life with wives and husbands and children, and photos trailed by comments. But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.",
      "location": 6154,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He had never told himself his own story, never allowed himself to reflect on it,",
      "location": 6197,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Writing her also became a way of writing himself.",
      "location": 6199,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "But here she was now, disliking it with the haughty confidence of a person who recognized kitsch.",
      "location": 6448,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ranyinudo, for whom men existed only as sources of things. She",
      "location": 6497,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "That girl never understood the first rule of life in this Lagos. You do not marry the man you love. You marry the man who can best maintain you.”",
      "location": 6549,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Ifemelu remembered how houses here had sagged, unpainted and untended, and mold crept up the walls, and gate hinges rusted and atrophied. But developers were renovating and dismantling now, and on the ground floor of a newly refurbished three-story building,",
      "location": 6560,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She wore neatly pressed clothes and scuffed but carefully polished high heels, read books like Praying Your Way to Prosperity",
      "location": 6564,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "spoke with a teenage American accent that made her sentences sound like questions, except for when she was speaking to her mother on the phone;",
      "location": 6580,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“The salon girls are always like, ‘Aunty, you don’t want to relax your hair?’ It’s ridiculous that Africans don’t value our natural hair in Africa,”",
      "location": 6672,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She was comfortable here, and she wished she were not. She wished, too, that she was not so interested in this new restaurant,",
      "location": 6695,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Are you willing to like classical music?” “Willing to like something, it’s a strange idea,”",
      "location": 6718,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Maybe it’s always been this way and we didn’t know, because we couldn’t know. It’s as if we are looking at an adult Nigeria that we didn’t know about.”",
      "location": 7063,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "We imagine that even the things that are not scarce are scarce. And it breeds a kind of desperation in everybody. Even the wealthy.”",
      "location": 7102,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“I realized I could buy America, and it lost its shine. When all I had was my passion for America, they didn’t give me a visa, but with my new bank account, getting a visa was very easy.",
      "location": 7145,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.”",
      "location": 7191,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "when I saw it, it reminded me of poetry.”",
      "location": 7211,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Or maybe we all have eccentricity in us, we just don’t have the money to show it? I’d love to take you to see the house.”",
      "location": 7214,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Try more strategy and less force. Passion never wins any game, never mind what they say.”",
      "location": 7263,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Excuses don’t win a game. You should try strategy.”",
      "location": 7264,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "she was angry, furious that he would drop her off and go home to his other life, his real life, and that she could not visualize the details of that life,",
      "location": 7336,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "This was love, to be eager for tomorrow.",
      "location": 7397,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "there was indeed a cowardliness in his fear of disorder, of disrupting what he did not even want: his life with Kosi, that second",
      "location": 7516,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "they did not really talk. But he had never tried, because he knew that the questions he asked of life were entirely different from hers.",
      "location": 7560,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "If he could be with her, so extraordinarily beautiful and yet so ordinary, predictable and domestic and dedicated, then perhaps his life would start to seem believably his.",
      "location": 7569,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "she was a literal person who did not read, she was content rather than curious about the world",
      "location": 7573,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Panic lanced through him at the thought of remaining married; without Ifemelu, the future loomed as an endless, joyless tedium.",
      "location": 7666,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She wanted to will normalcy back.",
      "location": 7686,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "She wanted to will a good marriage into being.",
      "location": 7686,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“There are many different ways to be poor in the world but increasingly there seems to be one single way to be rich.”",
      "location": 7741,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "“Look, The Zed, many of us didn’t marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this thing.",
      "location": 7801,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Love was a kind of grief. This was what the novelists meant by suffering.",
      "location": 7816,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He loved her, she knew, but he lacked a certain strength; his backbone was softened by duty.",
      "location": 7820,
      "annotation": ""
    }
  ]
}