124. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is that one book review that I have put off for a few months now. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say, on the contrary I could write a book on this book.

The story was incredible, eye-opening and an education. But I feel that my ignorance about topics like race and appropriation may muddle my review, and leave some one offended.

So don’t go cancelling me if I miswrite something. Like everyone else, I’m learning and trying my best to be as respectful as possible.

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America

 

Americanah is the story of Ifemulu and Obinze, two Nigerian teenagers that are trying to fulfill their educational ambitions and dreams, whilst trying to be together and navigating their life around the military dictatorship in their country.

“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

 

Obinze always dreamed about going to America and visiting the places he would read about, but he doesn’t get a visa and ends up going to the UK. While Ifemulu goes to the States for higher studies.

“How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.”

 

In this way, these two bound by love, but separated by location, discover what it is like outside of their home country, and how racism works. Ifemulu goes through bouts of depression and homesickness and her relationship with Obinze falls apart.

“… all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.”

He, on the other hand, ends up living as an illegal immigrant trying to become documented. Ultimately, he is deported and the shame of the entire process sticks to him and changes his mindset. Once back in Lagos, he becomes a wealthy businessman.

“Academics were not intellectuals; they were not curious, they built their stolid tents of specialized knowledge and stayed securely in them.”

 

Ifemulu’s, on the other hand gets her green card, starts a successful blog and has everything going right for her, but still feels the deep yearning for home. She ends up moving back to start working in the booming economy of Nigeria despite corruption and the volatile environment.

“But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and 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.”

 

At the heart of the story, it isn’t about the struggle both these characters face in terms of their career or academic goals. It is the struggle they face with their identity, race, expectations, homesickness, shame, and being subjected to conditions previously unknown of.

“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.”

Ifemulu blog talks about being “black” and racial issues in American from a non American Black person, this distinction is so stark throughout the story that it becomes a solid element of the character’s growth.

“They themselves mocked Africa, trading stories of absurdity, of stupidity, and they felt safe to mock, because it was a mockery born of longing, and of the heartbroken desire to see a place made whole again.”

Similarly, Obinze’s migration to the UK and the struggles of not being documented and thus, being exploited by many people is the story of millions we hear about. No one dreams of leaving their country if they can provide for themselves and their families, but when the circumstances aren’t all that great, one flees in hopes of finding the grass green on the other side.

Americanah isn’t just a fiction novel talking about two lovers stuck in the crossfire of circumstances. It is an education on identity, on adapting to new environments, on debunking your roots and realizing there is more than one way of living.

But the most beautiful thing Americanah achieves by the this story of discovery and growth, is the humanization of dreams, ambitions, struggles, and rights of the people in Nigeria, which the Western media has zeroed down to drug lords and modern day pirates.

The culture, the food, the life of a teenager, slangs and traditions formed this stunning introduction into the lives of Nigerians. I feel tempted to see Lagos myself, eat by those street vendors and drive by the coast.

Americanah is a rock solid work of fiction, that actually changes your mind!

Onto the basics:

  1. Rating: 5.0/5.0
  1. Favorite quote: “Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
  2. Reader level: E
  3. Should you read:
  4. Would I read it again: Yes!

Till next time,

-Sarah

 

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