Review: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanahFrom the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

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.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

Rating: 4/5

If you’d asked me when I was like a third of the way through the book what I thought, you would have received an unenthusiastic ‘ehhhh’. But I powered through, and as I became more involved in the lives of the characters, the novel really grew on me. Let’s be clear, it didn’t blow me away, but such is the weight of heavy hype and expectations.

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. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven’t completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow’s udder.

And while the author’s writing is good, what really sold it for me was the biting commentary on the subject of race in America. And, while I am neither an immigrant nor a person of colour in that particular country, it felt like she really nailed it. I bookmarked so many quotes that stood out for me, in their wit and their anger and their overall speaking truth to power.

In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters.

And while race features heavily in this book – racism in modern America, racism as a concept that doesn’t exist in most African countries, the language of racists – it would be a disservice to reduce Americanah to a book solely about race. It’s also a coming-of-age, a tale of immigrant experience, of family and found friends and love lost and found again. It’s a blistering critique of academia and masculinity and wealth and mental health. And it has downright hilarious moments to boot, in case you were put off by what seems like rather heavy subject matter.

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

In fact, this is a book that could easily work as non-fiction as well. I did think that telling the tale chronologically would have made for an easier reading experience, at least for me, because there were characters I didn’t pay as much attention to in the beginning as I should have.

“But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called “participation,” and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words.”

WORD indeed.

Perhaps best known for her “We Should All Be Feminists” speech, a cynical part of me says the author is probably the only other Nigerian, or indeed, African writer most people can name, apart from Chinua Achebe. But she certainly has a way with words, perhaps even more so in her essay writing, and I’m glad I finally got around to trying out her fiction work.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. I have been meaning to read my copy of this book for a while now and I almost downloaded it the other day via Audible (it’s on sale for $4.95). I think I should. While I’m not an American and I’m not caucasian, I think, more than ever, and with the emergence of the second coming of the Orange Reich, we are all seeing racism evolved into something even more monstrous. It’s become mainstream now and his supporters are no longer racists and bigots in hiding.

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