Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Publishing Info: Published in 2013 by Anchor Books, a division of Random House LLC
Number of Pages: 589 pages
My Rating: 5/5
Summary from Goodreads: Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion – for each other and for their homeland.
Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.
I feel as if my words are entirely inadequate to describe this book, but I’m going to try anyways because that is the whole point of this blog! If you haven’t read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie yet, go to a bookstore right now, buy it, prepare to have your life changed, devour it, and then come sit back down and continue reading this review. Okay? Okay (Sneaky John Green reference there). I mean, there is a reason this novel has a place on The New York Time’s Ten Best Books of the Year and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, among a boatload of other awards and honorable mentions.
When I was about halfway through this book, a friend saw me reading Americanah and asked me what it was about. A simple enough question, yet at that particular moment in time I was unable to articulate words that properly described the essence of the book. I’ve thought long and hard about this question, and have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to answer because this is a novel that cannot be summed up in a few measly words. It is a book about race, about politics, about gender and religion and mental illness. It’s a love story, a social commentary, and a reality check. There are portions that will make you laugh, others that will bring you to the verge of tears, and others altogether that will force you to sit and ponder them for hours on end. It’s a book about life and everything in it, and I utterly adored it.
Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.
Americanah is a novel divided into a series of parts, starting with Ifemelu having her hair braided in a salon in Philadelphia, while Obinze goes about his life in Nigeria with a beautiful wife and children. After discovering that neither Ifemelu nor Obinze is happy with their current lives, readers are transported back to the beginning of the story, when Ifemelu and Obinze met and fell in love in secondary school. Madly in love, everyone is convinced that Ifemelu and Obinze will stay together forever and get married, however circumstances drastically change when Ifemelu applies for a visa to continue her college education at an American university and is accepted. Despite vows that Obinze will join Ifemelu in America as soon as he finishes university, a tense political climate still reeling from the impact of 9/11 means Obinze’s visa application is denied, and their relationship is put on hold. Ifemelu continues to live out her new, independent life in the United States (which isn’t exactly all it’s cracked up to be), while Obinze embarks on a dangerous path as an undocumented immigrant in England.
This book is not massively action-packed or plot driven, so if that’s your cup of tea you might not enjoy this book as much as I did. Yes, there is a love story in Americanah, but it does not dominate the novel and it is not a typical romance. Obinze and Ifemelu are meant to be together, this is a fact readers are sure of from the opening of the novel, however it takes numerous failed relationships and years apart to eventually bring the two back together in the land where their relationship first blossomed, newly-democratic Nigeria. I truly believe this book has a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy and, besides that, it is a beautifully-written story with important things to say about race, society, and life in general. I cannot recommend this one enough, and I will definitely be checking out Adichie’s other works in the future.
Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.
Also, for anyone who has read Americanah already, you will remember that when Ifemelu moves back home she starts a blog titled The Small Redemptions of Lagos about her life and experiences in Nigeria. For those of you who wished you could actually read Ifemelu’s blog, you’re in luck! Last year Adichie began publishing and writing posts from Ifemelu’s perspective under a blog with the same title as her beloved, outspoken protagonist. The Small Redemptions of Lagos (which can be found here) features posts ranging from Ifemelu voicing her fears about Ebola to makeup and fashion advice, as well as updates on Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s new life together. Unfortunately Adichie hasn’t updated this blog since November of last year, however there are still plenty of past posts to read and enjoy!