Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Summary from Goodreads:

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Magnificent. As a big Adichie fan, I had pretty high expectations for this novel and thankfully it did not disappoint. Smart, funny, thought-provoking, moving – the list of adjectives I could use to describe this book is endless.

About halfway through the book, there is this scene where Ifemelu is at a posh dinner party in America and one of the guests makes the comment: “You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country. If you write about how people are really affected by race, it’ll be too obvious. Black writers who do literary fiction in this country, all three of them, not the ten thousand who write 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. So if you’re going to write about race, you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race. You know, a Proustian meditation, all watery and fuzzy, that at the end just leaves you feeling watery and fuzzy”. Well, Americanah is one of those books that is neither precious nor pretentious. And it is very much about race. And it is honest and well-written and wonderful.

Yes, this book is a love story (and a great one at that), but it is also so much more than that. It is about race, social inequality, immigration, self-acceptance, loss of cultural identity, and change. It’s full of memorable characters, hilarious and brutally honest commentary on cultural differences, and very detailed instructions on how to care for naturally kinky hair. At 477 pages, it is quite a chunky volume that does drag a little at times (I guess it is a bit Proustian in some ways), but it is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly highly recommended.

Have you read Americanah? Or any of Adichie’s other books? Would love to hear your thoughts. 

~Anna

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Anna

Anna. Melbourne. Bookseller. Student. Serial tsundokist.

7 thoughts on “Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. I love Chimamanda’s writing! I have read many of her books and Americanah was no exception. You are right, the thing that makes the book so fantastic and the other books she writes is that she talks about heavy/profound issues in a simple, honest and beautiful manner.

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    1. I’m so glad you liked it! I just thought it was so beautifully-written and thoughtful. It deals with some pretty heavy issues, but I never felt like I was being preached at. Great stuff. 😊 Have you read many of her other books?

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  2. I saw Adichie at a reading about a year ago, and she was asked by a student of color if she (the student) was supposed to write about her race in her stories. Adichie said that it’s not the responsibility of authors of color to be the representative for their race (sounds like Zora Neale Hurston to me!). However, I believe it was Leah over at FictionFan who felt that this book was very polemical–a reaction and criticism to something else (typically war when it comes to Adichie) instead of a story.

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    1. Oh wow, I would have loved to hear her speak. Did you enjoy the talk? Personally, I thought Americanah was quite political, but it didn’t really bother me as I thought the characters and story were intriguing enough for it to feel like a novel rather than an extended essay. I can understand why some people might take issue with this though and I did think that some parts dragged a bit, but on the whole I was really impressed. To each their own, I guess!

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