Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book was recommended by a dear friend, my fellow bookworm. And it did not disappoint the praise with which it fell into my hands. Let’s start with an intro into the story. (If you do not like to know much about a story before you read it, skip this.)
It is a love story in its essence; it revolves around the central relationship of Ifemelu and Obinze. The focus is not constantly, in a magnifying-glass-way, the link between them is an invisible thread that follows them even when they are on different continents, living other lives.
At first they meet as teenagers in school, in their homeland Nigeria. They fall in love, a love that continues when they go to university in Nsukka. But, due to university strikes in Nigeria, Ifemelu can get a visa to study in the United States. She leaves, Obinze stays.
Obinze and Ifemelu keep contact in the beginning, but this does not last. Obinze continues at the university, and graduates. He moves to England to pursue a better life. This does not work out how he hoped it would and after his visa expires, he ends up being an illegal immigrant in England. After a failed attempt to get his papers through a sham marriage, he is deported back to Nigeria. Immigration, the experience of an African and the African diaspora in the United states and England is the back drop of this love story. In all its nuances.
In the book you follow the biggest part of the story through Ifemelu’s eyes. She observes, she is bright and sharp. You follow her from Nigeria to the United States, where she struggles in the beginning to find her way through a cultural change, with all the shocks and subtle meanings that do not make sense to her just yet, some never will. Where she is for the first time seen as black, with all the racial issues that are attached to the word ‘black.’ You follow her as she becomes ‘Americanah’: The Nigerian word used to describe a person who lived abroad for so long they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian.
After a while, when she has found her footing in this society, she starts a blog. Here she observes and describes her experiences as a Non-American-Black living in America, talking for example about hair and all the connotations that are attached to African/Black hair. Some of the chapters include actual passages from her blog.
The book alternates also to the story of Obinze in England and what life for him is like when he returns to Nigeria. Obinze as a character is steady, quietly confident without being arrogant in any way, he is intelligent and has a solidness that surrounds him. Back in Nigeria he finds a job and very quickly becomes richer than he ever thought he would be. He marries and has a daughter.
After about 15 years in the United States, Ifemelu decides to return home, to Nigeria. Their paths cross again after so many years of silence…
In this story the author brings so many beautiful characters to life, all with a different background and way to approach life. She weaves the different cultures effortlessly together while at the same time highlighting social, racial issues and the many differences that all the characters experience. In the chapters of Ifemelu, her blog posts tackle them more directly from time to time. They ‘break’ free on the page from the story, at least that is how I felt, without being separate of the story off course. You observe together with Ifemelu, through her eyes and the eyes of Obinze.
To be clear: this book is not a lecture, it is a beautiful, sometimes funny, witty, warm novel that in the first place focusses on Ifemelu and Obinze, and the entourage of characters that surround them.
The only thing I less liked about the book was the ending. It fizzled out, meaning that it felt a bit rushed at times, the story rippled on a bit after a moment where I thought more was going to happen. Only to give a sense of closure on the very last two pages. I understand that not everything needs to end with a big ‘BANG.’ And sometimes in real life things just fizzle out, and life continues, which also can have a sense of beauty.
Americanah is the first book I have read from Adichie. It is certainly not the last… Highly recommend.