Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the second book I devoured after renewing my passion for reading two years ago. It was absolutely a fantastic piece of work, and I could not put it down. I mentioned it to everyone who would listen to me – mostly Nigerians and other foreigners. Everyone loved it.
The novel centers around Ifemeula, a strong, opinionated young Nigerian woman, and her childhood love Obinze. After numerous school strikes in Nigeria, Ifemuela leaves to pursue her education in America, in the hope of reuniting with Obinze after he graduates. Ifemeula arrives in Brooklyn to live with her aunt and cousin. Her aunt works multiple jobs to make ends meet, with the dream of passing her medical boards and begin residency. Ifemula and her Aunt shared a close rapport while living in Nigeria, but when Ifemula arrives in America, the relationship strains as they struggle to survive immigrant life. Even though I was young when I migrated to America, I remember the foreignness of everything and some of my difficulties. I sympathized with Ifemula and her aunt as they assimilate into their new surroundings as adults.
Once Ifemula finally starts school in Philadelphia, she struggles to find a job to support herself. She applies to several menial jobs without luck, as she tries to grasp the newness of American culture while staying in close contact with Obinze. She shares every experience with him, knowing he will be the only one in her life to fully comprehend what she is going through in America. At one point, she mentions to Obinze her frustration with the American language. “These Americans cannot speak English o.” It had to be that Americans are taught, from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what. They never said “I don’t know”. They said, instead, “I’m not sure”, which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge”. I like how Adichie nicely exemplifies the vagueness of American communication in comparison to Nigerians’ direct speech. It makes you realize how various cultures use words with such precision.
As a result, of her language frustrations, Obinze directs her to the works of James Baldwin since he is knowledgeable about American novelists. This sparks her appreciation for books and words, which eventually leads her to initiate the blog in the future.
After many disappointments and a particularly traumatic event, Ifemula’s friend helps her land a babysitting job with a wealthy white family. The traumatic event leads her to become distant and sever her relationship with Obinze.
As the story proceeds, she comfortably settles in her life in America, entangles herself with multiple romantic relationships, lands her first professional job, develops a new relationship with her hair, and starts a blog about race’s oddities and the discomfort of race relations in America. I admire how Adichie cleverly crafts the blog into the novel and broaches uncomfortable topics, such as the policing of black women’s hair and the invisibility of dark-skinned black women. As an aspiring blogger myself, I developed a soft spot for Ifemula’s essays.
Unbeknownst to her, as Ifemula settles into her life, Obinze receives a denial for an American visa during the aftermath of 9/11, which leads him to England. In England, Obinze grapples with an undocumented life while facing many indignities that he is too ashamed to discuss with anyone.
After his unsuccessful life in England, he returns to Nigeria, and her restlessness in America leads her back to Nigeria. It was shocking that he never made it to America, and she decided to return to Nigeria after her success. They eventually reunite in Nigeria, even though Obinze is married with a daughter.
When I first read this book two years ago, I adored the love story between Ifemula and Obinze and the fact that they ended up together at the end. I recently reread the novel, and I think differently. Was it really a love story? I have to be honest and state I dislike all the characters, except for Ifemula’s cousin. Even though Ifemula appears self-assured, I found her to be vapid, judgmental, and hypocritical throughout the novel. I dislike how she ends all her American romantic relationships, almost in a weak, shabbily way. I was a big fan of Obinze at the beginning of the novel for his bookish knowledge, curious interest in America, and his affectionate banter with his mother. I realize he had a demoralizing experience in England and lost the love of his life without explanation, but he became complacent when he returns to Nigeria.
Being a romantic at heart, I was disappointed that he married another woman. I mean, if this is the love of his life, why didn’t he fight harder to get her back or wait for her? How long would you wait for your person?
If you cannot tell, I loved this book and would strongly recommend it!
Did you read this book? What are your thoughts?
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I and my husband both really enjoyed this one (he did the audio book and I read a physical copy). I loved the contrast in experiences between the US and UK. It’s so interesting what you say about your re-reading experience, though – I am fascinated by how books change when we re-read them and this was over a short period of time!
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I also read the physical book and audio; both were excellent. Rereading is definitely an experience, especially in different phases in your life. Glad you enjoyed it!
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