Saturday, October 24, 2015

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is what an individual is called in Nigeria when they have lived abroad in the United States and have returned to live again in their homeland.  Ifemelu is an Americanah.  She and her first love, Obinze, are determined to leave Nigeria for the opportunities found elsewhere.  Ifemelu is able to emigrate to the United States as she has an aunt already there.  Obinze is not able to get a visa in post 9-11 America, so he ends up instead in England.

Although they plan to make a life together, events conspire to move the two apart.  Ifemelu is consumed with finding a way to become an American citizen, taking any job she can find.  She is constantly exhausted and it becomes easier and easier to neglect Obinze's letters.  Soon it is too embarrassing to try to reestablish contact and the relationship lapses.  Ifemelu finds success in the United States.  She manages to get a college education and writes a popular blog about race.

Race is a defining characteristic of life in the United States.  It is the biggest surprise for Ifemelu.  When she was living in Nigeria, no one thought about being black.  She became 'black' when she moved to the States, the first time she thought of herself in that way and realised that others were thinking of her skin color and judging her because of it.

Ifemelu's success starts to be less important to her as she starts to be drawn back to Nigeria.  She has various relationships with American men, both black and white, over the years, but her heart remains in Nigeria and she eventually returns after thirteen years abroad.  There, she sees Obinze again and must decide if she will pick up their relationship once again.

Americanah won lots of awards.  It was an Orange Prize (now Bailey's) nominee.  It was a New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year award winner, as well as a Goodreads winner, an NPR 'Great Reads' Book and a Washington Post Notable Book.  It was winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.  Readers will find themselves in a life they have probably never imagined before, that of the immigrant experience.  One of the most striking ideas is one that Americans probably never think about; that race is something that is only important in countries with many races.  It doesn't exist in the countries where everyone is the same race, although humans will always find something to separate themselves from each other.  It explores not only the immigrant experience but the lure of going back home.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Kristen said...

I thought this one raised some really fascinating questions about our society, especially as seen through the eyes of someone not raised here.

Sandie said...

I did also. I was struck by the observation that the main character was not black till she came here to live. It really puts into stark reality the fact that race is the first thing many of our citizens deal with in every life situation.

thecuecard said...

I'd like to read this book and will get to it. It's been on my TBR list for quite awhile!