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.
Hello there book lovers. It’s been a while since I sat down and wrote a book review (or anything!) for the blog, but I thought I should probably take some time to share my love for Americanah, which I recently read as part of my Creative Writing MA.
I don’t even know where to begin. I simply loved Americanah and thought that it epitomised everything its style of modern fiction should be: moving, funny, serious, compelling and full of moments that made me uncomfortable – as well as moments that made me think.
Americanah begins with Ifemelu in a hair salon in America, getting her hair braided before she goes home to Nigeria. We get the feeling she is unsure if this is the right decision or not, and that this is also a pivotal moment in her life. Throughout the vast and sprawling novel, Adichie shows us Ifemelu’s life since moving to the States, and the varying experiences of her childhood sweetheart Obinze as he heads to live undocumented in London. It is painful to see what happens to these two in their respective new homes, and to watch them as they try to assimilate with their new countries and new lives. Both have to learn to be black, both have to navigate the everyday struggles of race and identity, and note the hypocrisies of how the West deals with these issues.
It’s cringe-worthy to read about Americans speaking slowly to Ifemelu, assuming she cannot understand English, how they mention other African countries they have visited (or sent money to) when she says she is Nigerian, to see how they try too hard to show her that she is accepted. It’s horrible to read as well-educated and middle-class Obinze is forced to clean toilets in London in order to make a living. As much as I loved following Ifemelu’s journey and life in America, I loved her coming back to Nigeria, feeling about as unsettled as she did, and holding my breath in hopefulness as she reconnects with Obinze.
I absolutely loved Adichie’s style and raced through the 400+ pages quickly and with glee. I feel like I learnt so much from a narrator who is completely different to myself, and surely that’s the point of reading? I’m so excited to read more of Adichie’s work!