"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." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
Americanah at its core is a love story but don’t for a second assume that it gives into the clichés of a love story. It takes away the drama, the fights and the epiphanies that make up a love story and replaces it with race, gender, differences and the finding a sense of equilibrium among it all.
Americanah is set in Nigeria, America and bits of England. Ifemelu, a Nigerian girl and her friends have grown up in awe of America. Unlike her school mates though, she hasn’t dreamed of living in America, playfully mocking those who visit the United States and come back changed. However, when teachers strike across Nigeria and her graduation is on the line, she decides America is going to be her savior. America however has different plans for her. Alone, apart from an aunt- Aunty Uju (worn down, accepting and passive aggressive), her cousin Dike (charming and funny) and an old school friend Ginika, Ifemelu navigates a world of race, identity, judgment and discrimination. It is in America that Ifemelu discovers what it means to be Black, Black American, African American, Non-American Black – terms that never existed in Nigeria.
She meets women who become her friends, people she likes and dislikes and men, whom she falls in love with. While dating a white man, she notices the differences of a white-white and white-black relationship and begins her blog of commentary on race. She doesn’t leave any stone unturned; searching for metaphors in hair and content in Obama’s run for presidency. She writes about white privilege. She embraces the difference in her skin colour, her hair texture but questions why she ought to be treated any differently.
While Ifemelu becomes a successful race blogger in America, circumstances finds Obinze in London. Obinze was Ifem’s boyfriend. He was the one who had pushed her towards studying in America in the first place. After a failed attempt at earning a livelihood in London, Obnize returns to Nigeria and slowly pulls his life back together.
When Ifemelu decides to return back to Nigeria nearly 13 years after she left it, she finds it has changed considerably and yet it still remains the same. Just like her Obnize. And now the pair of them are left to deal with the ‘could have beens’ and ‘what ifs’, to pick up where they left off and makes a decision.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a powerful book, with strong round characters each serving a purpose. She has dealt with the issue of race and diversity in a humorous manner without sugar coating or hiding behind falsity. She has written with raw, real emotion and it is extremely easy to lose oneself in Lagos and then Ifemelu’s parts of America. The protagonist of Americanah is a black woman, representing both people of color and the female gender among great literature.
The language is fresh, comprehensive and strangely funny. Characters are fleshed out to their depths. The book doesn’t follow a linear timeline, moving from Ifemelu’s past to her present, regularly interrupted by Obinze’s side of the tale. However this abrupt change of narration doesn’t make the book the confusing but in fact gives a depth to it.
The book is detailed, pulling in references from Nigeria and giving it a sense of authenticity that makes it rich in imagery and the written word. A definite recommendation to anyone who enjoys social commentary and a good story.