Print Edition: October 15, 2014
There comes a novel once in a while that touches you and grows on you in ways you never imagined it would. Americanah is one of those. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian-born American writer, introduces us to a dark, unspoken side of America, while also exposing the harsh realities of her own home country.
The novel revolves around Ifemelu, a young, independent Nigerian girl, and her boyfriend Obinze. They both grow up in military-ruled Nigeria with good educations and loving friends and families. They also grow up with glamourized notions of the West, inculcating in them a desire to be a part of it.
Ngozi presents the culture and values of the Nigerian subcontinent with such precision and beauty that one can understand precisely where these two characters come from, and it’s easy for readers to associate with them.
The novel takes a spinning twist when Ifemelu earns a scholarship to go to Philadelphia to continue her postgraduate studies. Obinze migrates to Britain a few years later. The two separate as they embark on their individual life journeys.
It is from this point onwards in the novel that Ngozi really proves her merit as an award-winning author, as she describes the story of these two characters in these different places. Their loss of identity and sense of dislocation, the experience of being black, the rejections they face, and the hypocrisy of the American society they face all make for a touching read.
In America, Ifemelu struggles to find work and is turned away repeatedly from jobs. Her classmates speak to her as if she cannot comprehend English. She is often singled out as an “African-American” and it is assumed that she understands their plight. While in England, Obinze struggles to get a security number in order to work legally.
The final section of the book follows Ifemelu’s return and reunion with Obinze, who is by now married to someone else. Adichie’s immense talent is evident from the fact that such an extensive, epic book remains so tightly arranged, though there could have been fewer of Ifemelu’s blog posts.
Americanah makes for a great read for anybody interested in human behaviour, the realities of being an immigrant, and America’s attempts to reconcile itself with its recent past.