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Americanah (Ala Notable Books for Adults) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 610 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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The story opens with Ifemalu’s visit to Trenton, New Jersey to find a beauty salon stylist who can braid her hair in African fashion. She was living in Princeton, New Jersey where she taught at the university. The passage is important since it sets up the dichotomy of the book. Princeton is a city of elite academics. Trenton is a city of blue collar workers. The book is divided by Ifemalu’s comfortable later years in the USA and her struggling early years. To fit in as an African American, she straightened her hair and spoke with an African American accent. Eventually, she threw off African Americanism and becomes what she really was--an American African. Early struggles had caused her to cast off her African boyfriend—Obinze. At the end of the book, she regains her identity and is reunited with him. The visit to the beauty salon is important for a reason beyond telling the reader that Ifemalu will return to her roots as an African. It lets the reader also experience Ifemalu’s uncanny ability to assess people’s motivations. She sees through facades beginning in the salon and continuing in flashbacks throughout the book. She sees falsity in the white liberals’ political correctness. She sees passivity among African Americans. “Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism because their anger makes whites uncomfortable.” She sees their lack of pride in the trying to make nappy hair into straight hair and their embarrassment with their bodies and features. Even in Nigeria she is criticizes the blacks who have lived in America (Americanahs) because the pretend to be superior to others. She sees the Nigerians need to impress others and is thankful that America has allowed her to “find space” in order to become herself—an American African.
The book is a powerful and dramatic recognition of America’s continued racism that lies beneath of surface of culture correctness. It is a revealing and unsettling picture that is best seen from an outsider looking at us from inside our culture.
Do I sound preachy? At times I found this book to be preachy, but Adichie’s humor made me keep reading, even though I found the main character Ifemelu a bit tiresome as she continued on her path of doomed-from-the-start relationships. But just as I was beginning to roll my eyes, I’d come across something that made the the read worthwhile, with my favorite quote being, “Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it.” I love that. This and similar gems gave me pause for thought, and I’d think, Yeah. That’s right.
So even though I thought the book dragged in places and I occasionally found Ifemelu tedious, I’m not sorry I read this book.
I really appreciate the directness of Ifemelu as it is reflected in Adichie's expertly written text; raw or private moments where you think, "I can't believe the author wrote that!" (see underwear scene between Ifemelu and Obinze) As a non-POC reader, I found myself drawn into a world I can never truly be a part of and made aware of just some of the hardships of this part of the non-white community; I was, as the reader, "inside" this community, able to hear conversations, given omnipotent knowledge and awareness, all the while recognizing that once I close the book, I can return to my privileged bubble of existence. Thank you, Adichie, for writing "Americanah". And thank you to my CWL 340 professors for putting it on the syllabus!