Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is THE book. THE book that everyone recommends to everyone. THE book that every single book club seems to have already discussed (and is still discussing since it's release in 2013). So my small book club - my nearest and dearest bookish pals - decided we would finally take the plunge. And Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the vote - this is finally happening.
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.
There are so many things discussed in this book - love, race, wealth, class, happiness, adultery - it is frankly a brewing pot for conversation when it comes to contemporary fiction. There are endless layers that the author has included for any reader or critic to unpick. Despite starting with the assumption that there are 2 protagonists that we follow throughout their lives after leaving Nigeria, Ifemelu is definitely at the forefront of the conversation. We only get snippets of Obinze's new life in London.
Ifemelu is a popular blogger. Upon moving to America, she starts a successful blog called Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) by a Non-American Black. Many of the blog posts were fun (and thought-provoking) breaks within the flowing story line. It was often a welcomed break to read one of her insightful rants about American society. There were many about the culture surrounding afro hair and it's negative connotations in Western culture; too often being deemed as unprofessional. And others that I found personally disturbing. In one particular posts, she talks about varying levels of suffering within minority communities and how some have suffered more than others. It made me uncomfortable to see written words implying that e.g. Jewish people have endured a tolerable suffering whereas black people haven't. Comparing suffering in history feels wrong and non-productive. Her argument was that Jews were persecuted due to their wealth and intelligence, whereas no one is 'jealous' of any features a black person possesses. As a white-passing-half-Egyptian-with-Jewish-ancestory woman, I didn't LOVE seeing that suffering within other communities was 'tolerable'. Having said all that, I should know better than to be hurt by something said by a fictional character - an author doesn't have to agree with everything said by their protagonists. So as much as this post didn't make me smile, it definitely invoked a reaction; something that happens a lot during this read... It was very interesting to read the 'musings' of a black woman who has moved to a country where she is now a minority. On multiple occasions, she points out that in Nigeria, race is not a well formed or discussed concept, whereas it is a topic that everyone has an opinion on in countries such as the US and the UK. Seeing white characters being more offended with outdated terms for biracial people more so than the biracial people themselves, as they were unaware of the up-to-date lingo since moving to the US. It truly brings into context what is important and what isn't when it comes to racial politics. The love story between Ifemelu and Obinze is very modern and not horribly over the top/romanticised (a common reason why I don't end up reading many books in the romance genre). Don't be put off if this is how you interpret the synopsis like I did - a sweeping love story is not at the forefront of this book! Maybe this book doesn't sound like your cup of tea. But I implore you to try it anyway. Join a book club, start a book club, find some kind of Americanah forum so you can discuss it, because there are so many different parts to talk about. I would have a great time just going over and over the blog posts weaved into the story so I could get more of a taste of this book.
Initial Prediction: 5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 14 May 2013 (my edition: 23 February 2017)
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
# of Pages: 477