Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Americanah is a novel grounded in love, family, and seeing a place for the first time, then seeing it again after perspectives broaden. The novel follows two people, Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet as teenagers and fall in love. But, as the economy in Nigeria begins to collapse and people seek opportunities abroad, Ifemelu departs for the United States, and we learn that Obinze eventually makes it to England.
Americanah flips between the present and the past. We see Ifemelu come to the U.S. for school and the difficult life she experiences. We also view America and specifically race relations in America through the eyes of a Nigerian, as Ifemelu makes a living writing the lifestyle blog, Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. Some of Ifemelu’s blog posts are interspersed in the novel and they provide an insight into her and speak beyond the narrative. The posts are full of humor and insight.
I’m not sure how well I can speak to literature about people immigrating from one nation to another. I’ve certainly read other novels and short stories that cover this topic and Americanah fits well among those books I’ve read. How does America change Ifemelu? What does it mean to be from another country? I guess what differentiates Americanah from some of those other novels is the perspective the novel provides with an African character experiencing race in America. There is a level of nuance that’s far more rich.
In terms of writing, Adichie is deft in describing details and writes with an emotional mastery. Her sentences are both poignant and beautiful. I loved reading both Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s perspectives and then seeing the chemistry between the two reignite after Adichie finally puts them back in the same space. The tension of the novel is the distance between Ifemelu and Obinze. If they come together, will there be anymore story? Or, is the story the tension? Adichie answers this question toward the end, but it may leave some readers impatient for the two characters to come together.
If you’re looking for a wonderful novel with engaging characters that will allow you to see the United States in a way that is fresh and original, I strongly recommend reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.