Americanah by award winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie follows the story of a strong willed girl Ifemelu and her childhood sweetheart Obinze in military governed Nigeria, their experience when they seek greener pastures overseas and their reunion in post-military Nigeria. Americanah is a story that highlights race, culture, stereotypes and survival.
What I loved about this book.
The characters are so easy to relate with. You can completely understand why character A is doing this and why he isn’t. The characters are alive; you feel things for them. You don’t want Obinze to get caught and you don’t want Ifemelu to fall in love with this guy because you don’t trust him and you feel she and Obinze are meant to be. It brought out really strong emotions in me. At some point you find yourself saying “no no don’t do it
Ifemelu’s childhood is one that a couple of Nigerians can relate with – a proud Nigerian man that loses his job and his self-worth with it, a religious mother that changes church to fit her mood and a cousin that becomes the mistress of a rich man to survive. The story of the mistress is a classic – a woman hoping that her lover will leave his wife and kids for her because she is so special.
Race was portrayed so vividly in this book. You can almost feel Ifemelu’s anger when white people speak to her slowly because they think black people don’t understand English very well, Obinze’s hopelessness and diminishing self-worth when he’s asked to clean up feces for less than half a dollar an hour because he’s an unemployed black man desperately trying to survive in a white man’s world. It makes you rethink your fantasies about going abroad.
Black natural hair is one that is met with bafflement by both Africans and non-Africans. You can try to understand why a white woman would ask why you are keeping your natural hair because hers is soft and shiny and straight. But having to explain your hair choices over and over to your fellow female nationals is just tiring. The belief that natural hair is unprofessional is also portrayed. Ifemelu relaxing her hair for an interview felt so real.
The emotions in this story made it so alive. That the author took time to explain what the characters were feeling makes you think of how much time went into writing the book. It’s almost like you can see the expression on their faces. Ifemelu’s depression and Obinze’s loneliness were so well articulated and relatable.
What I didn’t like so much.
Some elements of the story were stretched thin while some were breezed through. Obama was talked about a lot – maybe it’s because that was the bonding factor between the main character and her boyfriend at the time. The salon scene was really stretched. It almost seemed like Ifemelu spent a week braiding her hair.
Also the blog posts became a bit too much (putting the entirety of Ifemelu’s blog post in the book). The post could occupy about two pages. It was welcome in the first couple of chapters but seeing it over and over again got tiring. At some point, I only skimmed the pages on the posts and it didn’t seem to affect my understanding of the story.
Characters like Obinze’s friend/coworker Nigel and Ifemelu’s employer/friend Kimberly were ditched after a while. I wanted to know how Nigel reacted to Nigeria when he came, if he felt even a teeny bit betrayed by Obinze and if Ifemelu kept in touch with Kimberly, was she still calling all black women beautiful? I still imagine different scenarios in my head concerning these characters.
The story is definitely a page turner. I was reluctant to drop the book till the end – I took it everywhere. While I didn’t particularly love the way the book ended, it is a great read and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to read. If I had to rate it, I’d give it an eight out of ten.