July 5, 2016
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Never before in my life have I read a book such as Americannah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A novel written at the beginning of a decade that would be remembered for the rise of social issues. The 2010s saw the rise of racial tensions, another wave of feminism, the renewed debate between conservatives and liberalists, and so much more. 2010s has also brought the clash of traditionalism and modernity in many African countries. The generation that came of age in this decade is forced to deal with all these issues all at once, and try to make sense of them. Americannah is a social commentary on all these obstacles that have recently risen. There many social commentaries out there, but this one is special because it’s written in the perspective of a Nigerian immigrant woman. The title “Americannah” comes from popular term that Nigerians call other Nigerians who have lived in America and have adopted their culture. Adichie leaves no one unscathed as she criticizes both Africans and Americans in her book. A commentary in form of a fiction story that leaves the reader sitting on the edge, yearning to know what’s on the next page. This book is truly a masterpiece.
The story is about Ifemelu, a Nigerian girl whose life is made up of school, family, and her boyfriend Obinze. Her and Obinze fall in love almost overnight, and are inseparable. They applied to the same university in Nsukka Nigeria; and just as everything was going well, the university strikes happen, and Proffessors refuse to teach. She ends up applying and getting into an American university, and at the coercion of Obinze goes to America. The plan was that Obinze would eventually join her, but after the 9/11 attacks, he never received a visa. Ifemelu and Obinze eventually lose touch, and move on with their lives. Obinze ends up in London living an undocumented life, then gets deported back to Nigeria where he runs into a great deal of money. His life is seemingly perfect, but it all seems empty without Ifemelu.
Ifemelu on the other hand, after letting go of Obinze plunges herself into the American life. She has to learn a great deal before she is completely comfortable in the country. She learns the social cues, she masters the American accent then decides to stick to her own, and finally she learns what it means to be black in America. Ifemelu starts a blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. A blog that becomes famous for its unconventional observations. It highlights the micro aggressions that blacks in America have to face, the black hair dilemma, and most importantly the tribalism in America. She discusses four tribes: class, race (the most distinct one), ideology, and region. It seems that Adichie was living and writing through Ifemelu about her thoughts and observations. Adichie goes out of her way to deliver observations that would not be popular; observations no one wanted to hear.
Throughout the book, Adichie includes stories of lovers that Ifemelu encountered in her thirteen years of living in the US. All her lovers opened doors for her to a different and new America that she didn’t previously know it existed. Curt, the fun loving wealthy white American shows her spontaneous living, and how to go after the “American dream.” On the other hand, Blaine, a young black professor shows her the problems that society faces today, especially African Americans. He also introduces her to liberalism ideologies; an American tribe. When Ifemelu decides to move back to Nigeria, she criticizes everything about the country just as much as she criticizes America in her new blog called the small redemptions of Lagos. She also runs into Obinze, and they resume their relationship. A relationship that was once childish and fun, now heavy with uncertainty and responsibility.
As an African who has lived in America for the last seven years, this is perhaps my favorite book. I underwent a lot of what Ifemelu went through but didn’t know how to put it in words until I read this book. I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand the often hidden social issues in Africa and America.