Thursday, January 15, 2015

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The only reason you say race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it's a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.

Americanah was marvelous. I loved it.  The novel tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze as they grow up in Lagos, Nigeria, each try to succeed abroad (Ifemelu in America and Obinze in England), and eventually return to Nigeria.  As Brittany put it in her review, it is every kind of story: a love story, an immigrant story, and more.

Adichie's prose is mesmerizing and she is so perceptive. I constantly found myself seeing things in a totally different way and thinking that her way of looking at the matter was so obvious. An important part of Ifemelu's time in America was the blog she ran about race and observations of American life from the perspective of a non-American black, parts of which were excerpted in the novel.

In a similar vein, Adichie was so insightful in her character descriptions:
Ifemelu watched them, so alike in their looks, and both unhappy people. But Kimberly's unhappiness was inward, unacknowledged, shielded by her desire for things to be as they should, and also by hope: she believed in other people's happiness because it meant that she, too, might one day have it. Laura's unhappiness was different, spiky, she wished that everyone around here were unhappy because she had convinced herself that she would always be.
He believed in good omens and positive thoughts and happy endings to films, a trouble-free belief, because he had not considered them deeply before choosing to believe; he just simply believed.

I often felt like I could easily imagine people like those she described and sometimes even saw some of myself in her characters (for better or worse).  It was also so fascinating to see the world through such different perspectives than mine. From the travails of being an undocumented immigrant and learning to deal with race-based prejudice to dealing with your hair as a black woman, I learned a great deal.

My only complaint with Americanah is that I kind of wish it didn't have to end.  Not that I wanted to read it forever (I thought its length was pretty appropriate), but that I felt like she must have felt pressured to wrap up her story, and in doing so fell back on cliches that undermined her otherwise outstanding character development.  However, that is a minor complaint.  I recommend this novel for everyone and can't wait to read more of her work.


Brittany said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I myself was maybe disappointed with the ending as it wasn't what I wanted to happen, but I also felt it was realistic...people do make that choice - probably because it seems to be an easy one to make.

I also really enjoyed Purple Hibiscus although Half of a Yellow Sun gets a little more press (which I haven't read).

Randy said...

I feel like too many people I know/respect have indicated that this novel is good for me to not read it.