Americanah - A Review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah features Ifemelu, a Nigerian teenage girl who migrates to the U.S. to seek a better life. She leaves behind a boyfriend with whom she had fallen hopelessly in love, and who loved her back just as much. Obinze, the boyfriend, hopes he'll one day join her in the United States, but uncontrollable circumstances prevent this from happening, and he migrates instead to England, where he is employed illegally, and eventually, deported back to Nigeria after been exposed.

The two long-lost lovers finally meet again 15 years later, when Ifemelu leaves everything in the U.S. behind and makes the decision to relocate to Nigeria. Before her final move, the story delves on flash backs that take us through Ifemelu's existence in the U.S., the phases she goes through, the difficulties and hardship she faces during her transition from one country to the other, as well as other adversaries. The time eventually comes for her to make the move back, and what follows is a roller-coaster ride of emotional ups and downs--joy, pain, panic, shock, disbelief, anger, even irritation, and everything else in between.

Americanah is a riveting, revealing, mind-bugging, brilliant work, one I couldn't put down until I was done with it. It is masterfully written by a master-minded writer; Adichie is indeed a great wordsmith. Her style is thought-provoking, enticing, seducing you into the scene of things, forcing you to think beyond your thought limit. As a West African myself, Ifemelu's story of her life before she migrated reminded me so much of my childhood; it was like I was living her life, and she was narrating my story. I loved that aspect of the book a lot.

Having said that, I began to get a little confused about the focus of the book, because, at first, I thought it would be solely about the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze. Instead, I found there were a little too many themes presented in one book. A large part of the book delved more into the issue of hair and race, which goes back to the issue of identity. A woman's hair, in this sense, represents who she is. And for Ifemelu, she believed that maintaining her natural look, by keeping her hair natural and free of braids, weave or chemicals, will symbolize her refusal to conform to society's definition of beautiful hair, which in most cases, involves a lengthy (and straightened) colorful texture.

The issue of racism was also very much prevalent in the book, but quite unfocused in my opinion. I understand that racism exists everywhere in the world and perhaps always will. However, I didn't think it was properly presented; it sounded a lot like rambling and meandering, but then again, the issue was presented in the form of a blog (authored by Ifemelu while she lived in the U.S.), so I can understand the level of radical rambling that is associated with blogging. But that aspect of the novel left me feeling puzzled, restless, unsatisfied, and wanting to skip the pages to get to the 'other goodies'.

Finally, we get to the final stages of the novel which is when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria. It was exciting to read and witness her return, and her adventures in Nigeria left me feeling nostalgic again. But here comes another downer – the ending was not satisfactory to me. True, a small part of me wished it to end the way it did, but a bigger part of me -- the rational, realistic, principled part of me -- shunned the ending. I won't give too much away, so I can't say any more than I have, but you'd need to read it in order to find out what exactly I mean.

Other than the few misgivings I mentioned above, there's no doubt that Adichie is a genius. Americanah is indeed one book you can go back to read and still find new and revealing things you didn't see during the first read. It is a book that stays with you long after you've read it again, and again. On the other hand, however, you may read it once, and never want to read it again! It's up to you!


GENRE: Literary fiction
SEXUAL CONTENT: Moderate to High
MATERIAL CONNECTION: Purchased for reading pleasure only