Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie portrays two Nigerian young people through the pivotal years of teens and twenties. But it’s much more than a coming of age story. It’s more of a “coming into your full self” kind of story, especially because it includes so many years of adulthood.
At its core is Ifemelu, a young woman with guts and plenty of opinions. Her boyfriend during school, Obinze, is considerably more mellow. They both dream of successful lives in the West, away from war-torn Nigeria.
In some ways, Americanah is structurally a romance:
Boy meets girl
Boy gets girl
Girl moves away and leaves boy
Boy and girl meet other people
Girl moves home
Boy meets girl again, etc.
We also meet the friends and family around them, including Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju and nephew Dike (pronounced DeeKay). As Adichie includes more characters, they become foils for Obinze and Ifemelu. Some push them to grow. Others bemoan how much they’ve changed.
Yes, it’s also about being an immigrant. But it’s as much about returning to your country of birth afterwards. It’s about whether you can go backwards in life to the relationship you’ve always longed for.
One of the ways Ifemelu makes her living in the States is to write a blog. Adichie uses these blogs to put across some very non-fictional ideas about race. Even though I consider myself an ally, some of them are so preachy. Additionally, it’s unrealistic that Ifemelu builds her blog audience basically overnight. And shortly thereafter has wealthy advertisers knocking down her doors. That’s not really how the average blogger experiences it.
If you’re looking for a rural African story, this isn’t it. Lagos is a cosmopolitan setting. At one point, Ifemelu admits that she and her friends are living “air-conditioned, middle-class lives.” And so they are.
Portrayed by Adichie, Ifemelu is the modern Nigerian everywoman. She could be any of the women in the picture above. She is at turns, sophisticated, insightful, and childish. I couldn’t relate to her high-maintenance behavior and attitude. I think this is a generational thing, since I run into similar feelings with my older nieces.
My favorite part of the story was her relationship with Aunty Uju and Dike. I loved the way their lives developed in America. This deepens Ifemelu and the story itself.
After listening to some of the interviews on PBS’ The Great American Read about this book, I realize it’s a seminal book for some black women. I think I understand why. Ifemelu and Obinze are well-developed characters. Adichie finds the balance between everyday life and more dramatic events. It’s a book with layers of meaning.
As a side note, audiobook narrator Adjoa Andoh does a good job of many voices and accents. I’ve got no idea if her pronunciation of the Igbo and Nigerian words is correct. But she sure doesn’t know how to pronounce words of other origins like quinoa or potpourri. Not very professional, Recorded Books.
This is my second Adichie, and I have one more on my shelf. She’s definitely an author to watch, although this was just a three-star book for me.