249 of 285 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Americanah is a wonderful epic saga of love, hair, blogs, racism in America, and life in Nigeria. It takes place over a period of about 15 years and is primarily about a Nigerian woman named Ifemelu and her first love, Obinze. The word Americanah refers to a person who returns to Nigeria after time abroad.
The main part of the story takes place in a hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey. Ifemelu is on a fellowship at Princeton and the nearest place to get weaves is in Trenton. As she is getting her hair done she goes back in time and the reader gets filled in with her life story.
Ifemelu grew up in poverty in Lagos. She managed to go to university there and won a scholarship to Wellson, a college in Philadelphia. There, she struggles with money and finds it very difficult to get a job. She knows little about the culture and "she hungered to understand everything about America, to wear a new, knowing skin right away." When she does work, she sends money back home to her parents. Ifemulu's primary job is as a nanny. She describes the dynamics of her employer's marriage as `she loves him and he loves himself'. She is introduced to her employer's cousin Curt and Ifemelu and he have a relationship for quite a while. His being white and rich cause some difficulties for them.
Ifemelu has cut off all contact with Obinze despite the fact that they had planned to be together. She had made a choice to do something that left her shamed and abased and she is unable to tell Obinze about it. So, rather than tell him, she severs their contact. He is distraught and does not know what to do. He continues to write to her for months but there is no answer from Ifemelu.
Meanwhile, Obinze goes to London where he lives underground after his six month visa expires. "He lived in London indeed but invisibly, his existence like an erased pencil sketch." He works construction and continues to do this until he is deported back to Nigeria.
Ifemelu remains in the United States for 13 years and has a series of relationships with different men. Of significance besides Curt, who is white, is Blaine who is African American and a professor at Yale. Theirs is a long-term relationship that Ifemelu breaks off in order to return to Lagos.
Ifemelu has started a blog called "Raceteenth: Understanding America for the Non-American Black." She writes anonymously about varied topics of racism that she encounters in the United States and the differences between being African American and a non-American black person. Her blog is very successful and brings her status and money as people make financial contributions to keep the blog going. She also does speaking engagements about topics she covers in her blog. "The blog had unveiled itself and shed its milk teeth; by turns, it surprised her, pleased her, left her behind. Its readers increased by the thousands from all over the world, so quickly that she resisted checking the stats, reluctant to know how many new people had clicked to read her that day, because it frightened her. And it exhilarated her."
The book has many characters in it, each of whom we come to know and connect with. However, it is primarily about Ifemelu and Obinze, their lives and love. I found the book fascinating and very readable. It does not ever let go of the messages that the author seeks to provide the reader. Racism is a constant theme in the book as is life in America for black Americans and non-American blacks. I found the idea of blogging as a way to share knowledge very intriguing. Actual blogs are a part of the book.
Adichie is a wonderful writer. Her short stories, all of which I've read, have knocked me out. I plan on reading her other novels. I can see why this brilliant woman has received a MacArthur Genius Award. I highly recommend this book.
266 of 310 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the opening of this long and too, too solid novel, Ifemelu, its protagonist is about to return to Nigeria when her fellowship at Princeton ends. After fifteen years in America, she has learned enough to write a lifestyle blog called "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A mouthful, but she has eyes in her head and a savage wit. Before it even develops as a story, Adichie's book is likely to interest us in much the same way that a blog would, whether to convey Ifemelu's first impressions of America (starting with tipping, dressing down for parties, and how to get a job on a student visa), or her flashbacks to her native land. Watching her grow up in Lagos, for example, we meet her father who is sacked from his civil service job for his refusal to address his superior as "Mummy," and her cousin Uju, a fully-qualified doctor who nonetheless lives as the kept mistress of a prominent General. Simply on the level of information and what can be gleaned from a different viewpoint, the book is fascinating.
But what about the story? If you read the summary inside the cover (presumably to become the book-flap blurb), you will see that it starts with two high-school sweethearts in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze. You read that Ifemelu will obtain a visa for the USA and move there for fifteen years, but that Obinze, who stayed to finish his degree in Nigeria, was excluded by an America fearful after 9/11 so instead spent several years living illegally in London. Finally, you will be told that Ifemelu and Obinze meet up again on her return and "face the toughest decisions of their lives." All well and good, but most of this story takes place in the first 100 pages; the meeting-up and not-so-tough decisions occupy only the last 50 pages of a 475-page book. So in between, there are around 300 pages that have very little narrative thrust at all, but are basically a commentary on daily life in the various countries -- the raw materials, in fact, for Ifemelu's blog.
Paradoxically, my interest picked up at first when I came to this section, because Adichie's observations are just so spot-on. So, for example, when she is interviewed for a job as a nanny by a woman on the Philadelphia Main Line: 'Ifemelu would come to realize later that Kimberly used "beautiful" in a peculiar way. "I'm meeting my beautiful friend from graduate school," Kimberly would say, or "We're working with this beautiful woman on the inner-city project," and always the woman she referred to would turn out to be quite ordinary-looking, but always black.' Ouch! And most of her observations are equally acute. But once Ifemelu actually starts "Raceteenth," we come to a long series of chapters whose sole purpose is to set up the blog posting that is printed verbatim after each. There are cocktail and dinner parties whose only function is to display American (or in one case British) attitudes to race. Much attention is paid to the rise of Barack Obama and contemporary reactions to it, all parsed with 20/20 hindsight. We soon feel that the developments in Ifemelu's life -- her jobs, partners, challenges, and opportunities -- exist as object lessons rather than the organic growth of a person we care about. But there is one scene that Adichie keeps returning to, a pan-African conversation when Ifemelu gets her hair braided in a Trenton storefront salon; this has more depth than most of what surrounds it -- and it is hardly coincidental that it takes place after her blog has been shut down.
The last section of the novel, back in contemporary Lagos, briefly gains traction with similarly sharp insights into Nigerian life. But it is hardly worth the hundreds of pages of preaching we must read through to reach it. The publisher should have edited this novel down to half its length, and paid Adichie to bring out that blog separately. But this unwieldy combination of the two is a bloated hybrid that does its talented author no favors.
216 of 260 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? ) I was so disappointed by this. Half of a Yellow Sun is a brilliant novel, and I mean brilliant: if you haven't read it yet, stop reading reviews of this one and get yourself a copy! Purple Hibiscus is quite good as well. So I was excited to see that Adichie had written another novel.... or so I thought. This turned out to be more like a 477-page opinion essay with some characters thrown in.
Read the blurb and you'll be told Americanah is about a pair of star-crossed lovers from Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze, following their adventures as immigrants in the U.S. and U.K. respectively. Technically that's in the book, but Americanah is really a series of vignettes in which an endless parade of minor characters talk about race, nationality, and various other issues, with Ifemelu in the background. (Obinze is here more as her love interest than a protagonist in his own right, and we only get a few chapters from his perspective.)
If you're looking for a book about race in America and aren't concerned about story, by all means, give this a try; Adichie has plenty to say on the subject. But for me this bloated book was a complete slog--I read 5 others from start to finish while plodding through it. The most interesting parts of the characters' lives, the moments when something is actually at stake, are breezed through in narrative summary, while the book focuses in on mundane conversations illustrating Adichie's points about race. There's no real plot, no tension or momentum, and I found it impossible to summon any interest in the characters, as I was kept at a distance from them throughout.
There are two types of scenes here, both of which feel as if they could have been lifted directly from the author's life or the lives of people she knows, and then strung together with little sense of continuity. In the first, Ifemelu encounters someone who says something ignorant, biased or otherwise unfortunate on the subject of race or nationality. In the second, Ifemelu attends a social event at which people talk about race or nationality. There's a revolving door of bit-part characters to opine on these subjects: this book must have 200+ named characters, almost all of whom appear in only one or two scenes and are developed only through brief sketches. Even in the last 10 pages of the book, Adichie introduces us to a whole new group of characters so that they can talk about economic problems in Nigeria. Which is representative of the extent to which the entire book is more a platform for the author to talk about issues than a story.
And perhaps because Ifemelu's primary role is not to drive the plot but as an observer who blogs about other people's foibles (actual blog entries are scattered liberally throughout), she mostly comes across as judgmental and self-righteous. When she does act, it's usually to be unpleasant: she passive-aggressively starts fights with her boyfriends, writes personal blog posts about friends without their permission, and when a co-worker criticizes her self-absorbed behavior, her response is to call the co-worker ugly. Ifemelu seems to tolerate other people in her life only insofar as they don't inconvenience her (and she's easily annoyed, by everything from her parents daring to visit her to an ex-boyfriend moving on with his life after she cuts him off), and she radiates disdain for everyone she meets, even those closest to her. Normally I'm a fan of flawed female protagonists, but Ifemelu is neither interesting nor admirable, drifting through a story that seems to take readers' identification with her for granted, with little narrative awareness of her flaws.
As for the most prominent part of the book then: the discussions about race. My response was mixed. There are certainly some good observations here, and Adichie is absolutely right that there ought to be more novels about how people experience race today, instead of the endless parade of books about slavery or Jim Crow that make us feel good about how far we've come rather than challenging us to do better. Sometimes Adichie exaggerates for effect--for instance, in a shopping scene where the characters are unable to identify which salesperson helped them because the only way to distinguish between the two is that one is black and one white, and they're unwilling to mention race. This could certainly happen and says something about American society, but Adichie seems quick to generalize, as if all Americans would react in the same way (I doubt most would be as stymied by the situation as the characters presented here). But while Ifemelu is always certain that she's right, and easily annoyed with those who disagree with her, Adichie merely presents her conclusions rather than leading readers to make them independently. People who don't already agree are unlikely to be convinced.
In the end, I was disappointed because I know Adichie can write great novels, where the focus is on the characters and their story and these elements are developed brilliantly. But that isn't this book. Adichie has a character argue against subtlety in writing novels about race, but surely it's possible to talk about race honestly and tell an engaging story at the same time, rather than sacrificing the latter for the former. I give a second star because the writing is not bad, because those few scenes where she stops pontificating and develops Ifemelu's experiences hooked me, because there are some good observations. But as a novel, Americanah is unsatisfying, and for me proved to be a tedious, heavy-handed slog, easily double the length the plot required. I'll promise here and now that if Adichie decides to publish an essay collection or memoir on the subject, I'll read it. But this cross between blog and novel results in a story and characters too thin to entertain, choked out by observations and opinions that would be better communicated in nonfiction. I simply can't recommend it.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I am probably biased towards this novel, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, not only because Adichie's first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which I read as a very young girl, awoke in me the possibility of good writing and beautiful prose by a Nigerian like me, but because of the familiarity of the book. In Nigeria, we are brought up on foreign movies, sitcoms and TV shows, foreign books and foreign news, we know how English should be spoken, and many of us who bother to read a lot, are very familiar with the colloquialisms of the west. This is perhaps why, we do not recognize how much we miss our own particularly Nigerian way of expression, in the literature we read. It is perhaps why, when we read a phrase that is essentially Nigerian, in a novel like Americanah, "Tina-Tina, how now?" "Why are you looking like a mumu?" "How will you cope/how are you coping?" all familiar Nigerian modes of speech, we are infinitely grateful.
It's like the word Americanah, such a Nigerian word, used to describe someone who had lived abroad for so long, they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They use American swearwords, or complain that the fries at KFC Onikan are limp, even though you see nothing wrong with them. This is when you turn to someone who understands and say, (No mind am, na Americanah), Don't mind him, he is an Americanah.
Adichie's latest follows Ifemelu, a bright, sharp and observant girl, from her early years in 1990's Nigeria, to a life in America, where after the first rude shocks of culture change in a new world, where `fat' is a bad word and not merely a statement of fact, where colour is such a big issue that it can rule people's lives, and where everything is different, she slowly and surely starts to become an Americanah.
In Americanah, ifemelu observes, and we are informed by her observations, she converses and we see her character, and she remembers, and in her memories we see a rich story that begins in Lagos, journeys through the cities of America, and gains a body that is beautiful to savour. It is through Ifemelu's observations, we experience what Americana is about.
Hair, specifically Black/African hair. Why do black women hide their hair? Would Beyonce ever allow the world to see her hair the way it really is, or would Michelle Obama? These are the questions Ifemelu asks In her blog, where after having lived in the United States for a long time, she broaches issues of race, hair and life in America from the eyes of a `Non-American Black'.
We experience race, Kimberley, the white woman who uses beautiful as a word to describe `black', because for whichever reason, black is a word that should be said as little as possible. Kurt, to whom Ifemelu's race means nothing, and Blaine, the Black American Yale professor, whose influence, in my opinion, would be the biggest in turning Ifemelu's observations from the disinterested and amused observation of a `Non-American Black' or `NAB', who calmly tells Kimberly, "You know, you can just say `black.' Not every black person is beautiful." to those of an `American Black' or `AB', who would say in her blog. "If the "slavery was so long ago" thing comes up, have your white friend say that lots of white folks are still inheriting money that their families made a hundred years ago. So if that legacy lives, why not the legacy of slavery?" The old Ifemelu would have told the descendants of the slaves to `get over it'.
We also experience love, Adichie herself describes Americanah as a love story, and this is true. There is love in almost every book, but in Americanah, it is not incidental, it is a central part of the story. Before America, and race and hair became issues, there was Obinze, the love of Ifemelu's teenage life. If Ifemelu, the daughter of a civil servant who lost his job because he would not bow to the excessive respect that Lagos Yoruba's employ and call his boss `Mummy', and uses English in such a way as to provide a hilarious sort of comic relief, is sharp and confident, then Obinze, the only son of a university professor, with his love for American books and his quiet belief in himself, is self assured and mature. They fall in love soon after they meet as secondary school students in Lagos, and when Ifemelu tells her aunt and friend, Uju, about him, saying she has met the love of her life, there is a hilarious moment when Aunt Uju advises her to "let him kiss and touch but not to let him put it inside."
While most of the story is seen though Ifemelu's eyes and memories, we also get to see some of Obinze, we follow him to London, where he lives as an illegal immigrant, after failing to find a job in Nigeria, or to fulfill his dream of going to America, (he later visits America, when he becomes rich, and isn't impressed, he lost interest when he realized that he could buy his way in.) He is arrested on the eve of his sham wedding, and repatriated. In all this Obinze never loses a certain `solidity', that he seems to effortlessly possess. In a democratic Nigeria, where a new middle class is rising, and the money that used to be the preserve of the top army generals starts to filter down, Obinze gets lucky in the way that only happens in Nigeria, where there really is too much money, and overnight he is a very rich man.
When Ifemelu starts to hunger for home, Obinze, with whom she has lost touch, is already a husband and father. "Meanwhile o, he has serious money now. See what you missed!" her friend, Ranyinudo tells her, on a call from Nigeria. (How Nigerian to say something like that!) The central question becomes, will they get back together? To some, this is a weakness of the story, the descent into the fantasy of a happily ever after for the heroine and hero, but it is not such a bad thing in itself, it makes enjoyable, and hopeful reading.
In summary, I loved the story. I loved the familiarity of it, Ifemelu's mother's ridiculous religiousness, her fathers ludicrous use of English, Aunty Uju, Ginika, Kayode, Emenike, who is perhaps one of the more interesting characters, as he strives to shed the life he was born with, to become what he wishes to be, and all the other different kinds of people that make up the rich tapestry that is Nigerian life.
Ifemelu is an interesting character, observant, watchful, sure of herself, even as a teenager, she is confident in a way I wouldn't have understood at that age. Obinze, knows himself in such a way that he doesn't need to follow any crowd, or have anybody validate him. However, I did feel that the ending was rather rushed, as if the author had other things to do, and was hastily putting the final scenes together.
The main grouse I had with the book was the fact that I saw some elements from Adichie's previous works. When Barrack Obama wins the election and her cousin Dike calls her to say that his president is black like him, I remember an interview long ago where Adichie says that her nephew had said the exact same thing after the elections. It make me feel cheated, this, the similarity of her relationship with Curt to the relationship of the characters in her short story, The Thing Around Your Neck; when Obinze describes his house in Enugu, and I see the house in Birdsong, the scene of another adulterous affair in another of her old short stories. How autobiographical is her work then? I ask myself. I begin to feel suspicious, perhaps all the characters are really her and the people she knows, perhaps Pat Peoples is really Matthew Quick, and Nick Hornby's characters are really just himself?
I noticed that apart from Dike, her little cousin, and Obinze, and perhaps Obinze's mother, Ifemelu does not seem very emotionally involved with the people that shape her life, sometimes she seems like a watcher, an observer, and not a character in the story. Also, because this novel is really many observations and opinions, sometimes it does feel contrived, like a character or event has been introduced, solely because they are a means to present an issue Adichie wants to discuss. Lastly, I did not find the blog interesting, unlike the prose of the novel, the writing is not fluid, or vey descriptive, and seems to jump from one issue to another, trying to cram many thoughts into one jumbled package. This may be because I am not an NAB, and those issues mean little to me, perhaps the AB's would read it differently.
Regardless, Americanah is a wonderful read, sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes sad, but always interesting.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I love Adichie. Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus were great reads! The Thing around your neck is my best read from her so far.
I was really looking forward to this book but I have to say it did not meet my expectations. The book has some interesting analysis on the race relations, which I highly enjoyed and appreciated,however the main theme of Ifemelu and Obinze's love seemed lost and would resurface in the book sporadically. There seemed to be a lack of consistency of Ifems love to Obinze, she barely thinks of him and in a large section of the book and barely mentioned in her story... she may as well have forgotten him.. (apart from his story of life in UK, coming back...and these sections seemed like afterthoughts, not well developed).. Ifem seems to be self-centered for the most part and selfish.. but I guess its not wrong to unlike the character because I did not like her..
Obinze's character - I am an African woman and I think I have a good idea what an African man is.. but I found Obinze to be very fictional, unreal - Adichie did little to humanize him, he was perfect (even when the story was being told from his perspective, he still did no wrong). Fell in love with her at first sight and remained that way.. to me he seemed like a character imagined in a woman's head....a woman's expectation of the perfect guy... an in-genuine and unreal character...
All in all the book is a good read, but knowing Adichie and her literal skills, it was disappointing...requires some editing and development of characters...it read like a rushed lazy product from Adichie..
I do love the humor and there is lots of it... her father is very funny! I loved Aunt Uju and her mom reminded me of my mom!!
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Have you ever sat through a long movie because it seemed like it was going to get really good any minute now? You admire the director's other work, the cast seems talented, the story should be compelling, and some scenes are wonderful. So you watch for the full three hours, and then realize that it just wasn't worth it. I felt just like that after reading this book. It's a shame, because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted and insightful writer. "Half of a Yellow Sun" was great, and so I had high hopes for this one.
The book is supposedly about race, but it's really more of a predictable love story about two young Nigerians who make a deep connection early in life that is challenged by distance and poor decisions. Ifemelu,the main character, also sometimes blogs about race. I wish that the blog really existed instead! The painful, funny, challenging observations about race in the United States are the best part of the book, whereas the characters we encounter in the parts of the book set in the U.S. seem like they exist only to prove the validity of what's discussed in the blog. They never seem like real people. They are either very academic, ivory tower liberals (The Korean one! The African American professor who eats organic vegetables! His lesbian ex! A couple more we meet at cocktail parties! Collect them all!) or rich, boring white folks hell bent on proving how "understanding" they are. (They don't get it! Ifemelu keeps hanging out with them anyway!) Maybe I haven't spent enough time in Ivy League circles to relate to these characters, but wow! So dull!
The section of the book about Obinze's experience as an undocumented immigrant in England was much more compelling, because the reader palpably feels his sense of alienation and terror of being discovered. Also, Ifemelu and Obinze both experience conflicting feelings of being home, but also outsiders when they return to Nigeria. This rang true, because they have been changed by their experiences of navigating other cultures.
By page 400 or so, I realized this book was like one of those films that is almost good, but not quite. By then I had to finish it. Oh well, I still look forward to reading the author's other books, and wish she would write the blog in real life!
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2013
Adichie can write and if you want to read a good book she has written, read Half of a Yellow Sun. This book on the other hand was a difficult book to get through. It is a series of opinions of the author thrown at the reader through Ifemelu either through narratives or her blogs. Ifemelu is thoroughly unlikeable. If these opinions are those of the author (and it's hard not to suspect this), then so is the author. The opinions are often baseless, Ifemelu has no capacity for self-reflection, is extremely judgmental, has nothing good to say about anyone, truly believes the world revolves around her, and believes that her way of thinking is the only way to think, and you're either ignorant or a hippie if you disagree. She has condescending terms for every type of person you can imagine. Ifemelu looks down on 3 and 5 year old American children who tell their age by raising the appropriate number of fingers! This she declares is all the reason she needs to raise her children in Nigeria!! I almost threw this book away at that moment (for about the 4th time)--except it's on my beloved Kindle. There is nothing to like about this character.
Race is thrown in here as an afterthought quite frankly. There is something that doesn't quite click, or at least is dealt with superficially and without context or a full appreciation of the history of race in America. I have a hard time believing that a black woman would walk in to a restaurant with a white man and he's asked if it's a table for one. I won't say more.
As a Nigerian, I bristled at the description of the Nigerians in Lagos. These ill-conceived and poorly developed characters are superficial caricatures. Make no mistake, Obinze is a caricature. No depth. If you know nothing about Nigerians you would think all they cared about are ill-gotten means/money, big cars, multiple homes, and other people's spouses. I was aghast at these people, and again I kept thinking the author was simply writing/blogging about her life, her acquaintances, her friends.
There are other better-written reviews describing how bad this book is so I will stop here. I would give it a 1 but the writing is not bad. And there is some effort that has been expended here. But, I would absolutely NOT recommend this book.
35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Adichie's third novel is the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian (Igbo) woman, finding her path in Africa and America. A great portion of the plot centers on her romantic struggles, and the 10% or so of the story that is not told from Ifemelu's perspective follows Obinze, her high school sweetheart, as he tries to build a life for himself in the UK and Nigeria. The book also has a lot to say on the subject of race - Ifemelu ultimately writes a very successful blog called "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black," portions of which are included in the story.
This novel helped me to develop an appreciation for all sorts of experiences I wouldn't otherwise begin to understand: the richness of Nigerian culture, the deep, soul-shaking challenges of immigrating (especially in a post-9/11 world), the complex relationships between Africans and African-Americans. The writing style reminded me a bit of Jane Austen, with lots of keen (and often funny) observations about what makes people tick. One of my favorite passages went: "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 her were unhappy because she had convinced herself that she would always be." Another I liked: "Aunty Uju collected all of her dissatisfactions in a silk purse, nursing them, polishing them, and then on the Saturday of Ifemelu's visit, while Bartholomew was out and Dike upstairs, she would spill them out on the table, and turn each one this way and that, to catch the light."
What ruined this book for me was its arrant narcissism. Ifemelu, the main character (who happens to share a lot of the same biographical details with the author) is written as tiresomely flawless. She's brilliant, beautiful, and brave. Despite not having children of her own, Ifemelu appears to know better how to raise them than any of the parents she encounters: her aunt, a single-mother trying to become a doctor in the United States (whose son prefers Ifemelu to his own mother), the wealthy suburban mom who hires Ifemelu as nanny (whose daughter prefers Ifemelu to her own mother), the wife of her lover. Over the course of the novel, when she is compared to her boyfriends' other love interests, she always comes out ahead - the author even makes a point of saying that Ifemelu is chosen over a girl voted "most beautiful" at her high school, and later a woman voted "most beautiful" at the University of Lagos. And she's never, ever wrong. A high school friend says of her, "Ifemelu is one fine babe but she is too much trouble. She can argue. She can talk. She never agrees." And later on in a conversation with a love interest, he tells her, "That's a pretty strong opinion," and she responds, "I don't know how to have any other kind." When Ifemelu decides to shut down her popular blog on race, a fan writes to her, "You've used your irreverent, hectoring, funny and thought-provoking voice to create a space for real conversations about an important subject."
All of this feels a little too self-congratulatory and masturbatory. Later on in the novel, one of the secondary characters delivers a monologue about how brave someone would have to be to write a novel about race in contemporary America (nudge-nudge). Furthermore, the critiques of race issues in this novel (such as the extensively-developed argument against the pressures for African and African-American women to treat their hair with chemicals), while important, seem preachy, simplistic, and unoriginal.
I haven't read any of Adichie's other long works, but I imagine that if she turned her attention to a character in whom she saw a little less of herself, I would enjoy it. As far as "Americanah" goes, it felt sort of like a ten-hour road trip with a deeply self-involved friend.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By the time I came to the end off this 477 page novel, I don't think I could have tolerated another minute in the mind of its main character Ifemelu. She makes a great many interesting and thought provoking observations on race, enough to make this a worthwhile read. But, after a time her constant need to analyze the true meaning of each and every sentence spoken to her or near her, each glance, each gesture, it just became tiring for me. What began as an interesting story with astute observations became a fatiguing look at the world through a hypercritical filter. To be clear, I'm not referring to her observations of race and life in the US. It was the constant analysis of every moment and movement of everyone with whom she comes into contact.
As many other reviewers have noted, Ifemelu starts a very successful blog on race in America and many of its entries were some of the book's best moments. But the blog and its posts also had the effect of reducing nearly every character in the story to a method of introduction to a post. Thus we are treated to a parade of clueless, mostly well meaning white people, misguided (often meaning overly conservative) Africans, and a host of men and women of all races whose greatest offenses are often simply not being smart or savvy enough to share the room with Ifemelu.
Again, I felt the read was worthwhile for the fascinating takes on race, and for the enlightening impressions of the US from a highly educated immigrant. But there isn't enough story here to carry a novel, and most of the characters feel simply like set-ups for essays. In the end though, those essays are worth reading even if they perhaps cost the story a more authentic feel.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I borrow (as is the case with the title of this review) words and phrases from this great author.
I was "excited" and in "awe" as the pages unfolded, revealing familiar and refreshingly new views through a modern style of using blogging to narrate an intricate tale of Love, Culture,Race and Gender as part of the package. Unlike "Half of a Yellow Sun" and "The Purple Hibiscus" I believe this book, Americanah will find a broader audience, as it resonates with most Black women, women of colour, Africans, specifically South Africa, as "race" has been a part of our lives for the past 500 years.
The racism truths as expressed through various characters in the book, resonates with me especially, as we come upon such characters daily in South Africa - 19 years into our democracy, most discussions around this topic has become uncomfortable, although there is a definite volcanic brewing of things unsaid, thoughts not expressed, wounds not healed on this topic.
The descriptions of the USA cities, culture and people is welcoming, especially nostalgic when she writes about the Obama election campaign through to the Presidential inauguration, presenting a myriad of American views through her blogging, but successfully convincing me that she was right there, in the midst of this very historical and momentous time in history.
We find on the continent of Africa, many who had received education in the USA, and some of them struggle with identity issues, self hatred and continue to fast talk themselves through life, many times never embracing truly where they belong and drift between places for a life time.
For every black women everywhere, the discussions, blogging and views on hair is welcoming and narrated lightly, without bias - a simple truth, Many of us have at times aspired to UN-BLACK our hair, and have experienced the sting that comes with remaining true to your natural hair-state, but many realise that time when embracing your natural hair, is perhaps symbolic of embracing your essence as a human or woman. I love the idea of seeing a well know Black woman like Beyonce in her natural form.
The American white-woman character "Kimberley" is a welcoming addition which to me illustrates the roles of many women who confine themselves to a safe place, avoiding life at all cost. She allows her fears to develop into a life long "people pleasing" persona, in stark contrast with her sister "Laura" who is on a quest to be proven right at all times. "Laura" needs the weaker sister "Kimberley" to affirm her own basic, limited and self righteous views to sustain herself. "Laura's" views about Africa is at times humorous, as she quotes from tabloids and magazines, affirming her limited understanding of the American's saving grace towards the orphaned and "dark" African continent.
The simplicity of the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze is perhaps refreshingly a truth we all aspire to in our quest for love, regardless of where we find ourselves. After her experience of love with the White American and the African American, she continues to yearn for Obinze - that realness - a place where she could be truly herself and where she feels finally at "home". I quote "Her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out". But before she comes to this realisation she experiences necessary awakening life lessons, at times painful, but leading to a place of accepting her true self.
In the end, which to me is also the beginning, Ifemelu who started her journey as an idealistic determined young girl, opinionated and having readily answers about life and love, discovers that there is more to her limited view of the world, not necessarily right or wrong, but she uses her experiences to reflect and her blogging to express, and gain insight into others - and learning finally Reverence.