Margin Notes: Americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was just beautifully written. It took me a long time to read it because I was savoring every word and rereading portions of the book. It hooked me, I so enjoyed this book and I really learned a lot from it.

The plot is, at it's heart, a love story told over many years. A strong, smart woman and a kind, thoughtful, smart man fall in love in high school. Go to college. Are eventually split apart and both go to different foreign countries (the US and the UK). They have other loves but nothing compares, then they meet again when they both come home to Nigeria and try to understand their lives and who they are within their new context as expatriots. I was rooting for them throughout the book, even when it didn't make sense to root for them rationally, emotionally I just wanted them to be together.

The story, however, is about so much more than just a love story. It's about the two main characters--Obinze and Ifemelu--leaving Nigeria and trying to make their way in countries that are so foreign that simple things like how you say hello or thank you are totally different, and huge things like race and politics and ethics are dramatically different. And then, it's about their homecomings. The difference between the UK and the US were so interesting and the commentary, particularly from Ifem, was so blunt. She was the perfect character to really tell it like she saw it. And I loved hearing how her writing changed as she dated different people or how they reacted to her writing. All of the characters were so well drawn, even secondary and tertiary characters, that hearing what they had to say really filled out the narrative and critiques and gave the story weight and depth. We learn about politics, hair, immigration, community, friendships, families, ethics, ethnic differences, racial differences, cultural differences, all with an air of transparency and bluntness, but not an unkind or judge-y bluntness. It was enlightening.

The characters were unbelievably round. They were flawed in ways that made you understand that they were human. Adichie wasn't afraid to put them in morally gray areas--working illegally, doing things they maybe didn't want to do like trying for illegal marriages or taking a job that wasn't on the up and up. Seeing characters you love and respect in these positions just made them brighter, more alive, and more relatable. I feel like I know these characters and might bump into them on the street. They're so real.

The timeline of the story was done so well--a lot of it happens as Ifemelu is getting her hair done in New Jersey. Flashbacks to her time in HS, growing up in Nigeria, going to university in Nigeria, and starting out in America and making her life in the US. It never felt jarring, the transitions in time were always purposeful and smooth. Adichie is a masterful story teller, and to be able to make this timeline work seamlessly is such a feat.

I highly recommend this book. It's a beautiful story.

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