Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides a voice for those young adults who have come from African countries to study in any country dominated by Western culture. I absolutely loved the main character, Ifemelu, her views on life in America and the ways she utilises her experiences to feed back to people in the same position as her, or considering moving there. Reading this book from a British perspective was eye-opening and I learned a lot about African culture which surprised me. This is a must-read for people who really want to understand what non-America, or non-British black people experience and feel when they enter those countries.
Americanah follows Ifemelu as she leaves Nigeria and goes to America to study, leaving her home boyfriend behind with empty promises of making it work. While there, she meets, befriends and dates a wide variety of people, taking in their Western culture and learning which bits of it she enjoys and which bits she would like to keep separate. She starts a blog: Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black, in which she writes about her experiences and grows a vast following. We follow her on this journey as her ex-boyfriend, Obinze goes to England after failing to get an American visa. When they both decide to return to Nigeria after such a long time of not seeing each other, how will they have changed?
Why this is a great book…
I’m going to get it out of the way now and say that I didn’t like the romance between Ifemelu and Obinze, and it shouldn’t have been the focus of the last 25% of the book. However, apart from that, it is an incredible read. It is so interesting to hear the differences between what offends black Americans and what offends black Africans, as there is a huge distinction. The entire conversation about race, culture and society is something I am very interested in and this opened my eyes in new ways.
I also loved the far more accurate portrayal of gender roles in Nigerian society; the woman being expected to have a job and it not being seen as strange if she earns more than her husband. Men and women cooking, and offering feedback on cooking; nothing being one person’s job or the other’s and a nice sense of shared responsibility that is rare in many places.
I would have liked to have read more of Dike’s story after Ifemelu left America, and would love a book from his perspective, as he was clearly a complex character with identity issues. That being said, the male characters were the most even male characters I have read in a book in a long time; they were not all bad or all good, each had his good qualities and bad qualities. I think we can all say that we’ve dated somebody like Blaine the loveable know-it-all who you end up rebelling against, and we have all had a friend like Curt, happy to agree and go along with your suggestions.
Without making this review a book in its own right, the language and writing was so neat and sharp and the messages rang true and clear. I found myself nodding at the conviction, concerned and nearly in tears at certain parts and altogether moved by the narrative Adichie tells.
Overall, this is an excellent 5* read. Americanah is an exploration of love and romance, culture, family dynamics, friendships and the question of race. I would recommend this book to people who love to read and don’t mind a long book, as well as anybody who wants to fully listen and understand these cultural issues. The audio narration was one of the best I have experienced. I’m very glad I picked this one up!