I have probably mentioned previously that my sister-in-law rating something five stars on Goodreads means I automatically add it to my To Read queue 9/10 times. Such was the case with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. My new book club selected it for this month and so it got bumped to the top. And 477 pages later I am glad I did, though I struggle to think of what to say about it.
Americanah is the story of two childhood sweethearts, Ifemelu and Obinze, and how their lives take different turns once they leave their home in Nigeria and venture abroad separately. Ifemelu receives a partial scholarship to an American university while Obinze snags a visa to England. Throughout the novel we learn what 15 years apart has changed in each character and how much a first love can linger with you. While at first Ifemelu struggles in America, she eventually lands on her feet with a nanny position for a wealthy family. She is astonished to learn that Americans are incredibly interested in race and begins a snarky blog for the non-American Africans that takes off. She lives in America for fifteen years and throughout the novel we get glimpses of relationships, both romantic and familial. Obinze is unable to get a visa to America, the country he has idealized and dreamt of his entire life. In a post-9/11 world, visas are harder to come by, so his mother pull strings and gets him a British visa. Obinze’s experience there is not a great one and he returns home to Nigeria, where he eventually marries a nice but non-special woman and fathers a daughter he loves. The novel is entirely spent catching us up on these lives and then letting us know where they go, while also making the reader think about the experience of African-Americans in America as well as abroad.
I liked this novel (though I’m not sure I loved it as much as my sister-in-law). Adichie is a gifted writer, and her prose is both complex and easily digestible or relatable. I don’t have a lot of background on Nigeria’s history and culture and this novel intrigued me. I’m perfectly shitty at geography so I admit I don’t really know where it is without looking at a map. It’s so interesting to think about how different a black person’s experience would be depending on where they grew up. I was really intrigued by the prospect of someone like Ifemelu moving to America and not understanding how things are but being mistaken for someone who does. Or, the fact that she might never have been treated the same way at home growing up and how odd it would be for something that never really mattered to matter a great deal all the sudden. It’s incredibly complex and not something I can easily convey into a book review. I liked that Adichie’s novel made me think about it, but it’s definitely not something that you NEED to read for deeper meaning. It’s an entertaining story about two people who are clearly meant for each other and what stops connections from happening.
My only con for this book is its length. It’s nearly 500 pages so it’s not going to be a quick beach read if that’s what you’re looking for. Still, take the time with it – its vivid descriptions and humorous characters will capture your attention easily.