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Americanah: A novel Paperback – March 4, 2014
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Half of a Yellow Sun—the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time.
Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
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“Dazzling. . . . Funny and defiant, and simultaneously so wise. . . . Brilliant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A very funny, very warm and moving intergenerational epic that confirms Adichie’s virtuosity, boundless empathy and searing social acuity.” —Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King
“Masterful. . . . An expansive, epic love story. . . . Pulls no punches with regard to race, class and the high-risk, heart-tearing struggle for belonging in a fractured world.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“[A] knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. . . . A marvel.” —NPR
“A cerebral and utterly transfixing epic. . . . Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home. . . . Unforgettable.” —The Boston Globe
“Witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic . . . a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us. . . . A steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Adichie is uniquely positioned to compare racial hierarchies in the United States to social striving in her native Nigeria. She does so in this new work with a ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides of both nations.” —The Washington Post
“Gorgeous. . . . A bright, bold book with unforgettable swagger that proves it sometimes takes a newcomer to show Americans to ourselves.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Americanah tackles the U.S. race complex with a directness and brio no U.S. writer of any color would risk.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“So smart about so many subjects that to call it a novel about being black in the 21st century doesn’t even begin to convey its luxurious heft and scope. . . . Capacious, absorbing and original.” —Jennifer Reese, NPR
“Superb . . . Americanah is that rare thing in contemporary literary fiction: a lush, big-hearted love story that also happens to be a piercingly funny social critique.” —Vogue
“A near-flawless novel.” —The Seattle Times
One of the Best Books of the Year
The New York Times •NPR • Chicago Tribune • The Washington Post • The Seattle Times • Entertainment Weekly • Newsday • Goodreads
One of Time's 10 Best Fiction Books of the 2010s
About the Author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, Financial Times, and Zoetrope: All-Story. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Half of a Yellow Sun, which was the recipient of the Women’s Prize for Fiction “Winner of Winners” award; Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck; and the essays We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, both national bestsellers. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
- ASIN : 0307455920
- Publisher : Anchor (March 4, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 588 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780307455925
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307455925
- Lexile measure : 940L
- Item Weight : 14.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.13 x 0.96 x 7.97 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on February 7, 2019
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Americanah is about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who leaves University in Nigeria and her first love, Obinze, to work and study in America. It delves into her troubles as a Non-American black woman. Racism she never experienced before, frustration in finding work, and a constant search to find herself. As an expat, I was able to relate to her sadness and depression. I have been away from the familiar, life’s comforts I had grown accustom to, and the freedom of speaking to whoever, whenever. Of course, I can’t identify with the racism aspect of it, but I can identify with the loneliness as an outsider, not understanding the language, and the shock of a different culture.
This book is a National Bestseller and voted “One of the Best Books of the Year” by the New York Times Book Review. I would have to agree that for the writing and historical purposes this book deserves to be a National Bestseller, but not necessarily one of the best books of the year. However, I believe it will make its way into African Studies. One of the best things about reading this book with my book club was discussing it with several expats, one being Nigerian. We were able to ask him questions about her descriptions of Nigeria and their ways.
Black women’s hair was a big point she made in the book, which is why the book cover illustrates braids. In my opinion, I believe the braid attempt on the book cover failed. At first I thought they were ropes, and then realized they symbolized black women’s braids. It looks like a child drew them.
My book review will contain spoilers, so please stop here if you have not read the book and plan to read it.
I found some great lines in the book, and I would like to share a few of them with you.
“…it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”
“…she had convinced herself that she was not living on memories mildewed by thirteen years.”
“But his mannered English bothered her as she got older, because it was costume, his shield against insecurity.”
“There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.”
Chimamanda’s writing is good. I enjoyed her style, but wasn’t awe-struck by it. There were times where she tended to become repetitive. Many chapters contain blog posts written by the main character and they all have the same type of theme, yet not all have that “Aha!” moment. The blog posts grow into lectures more than advice, opinion, or suggestions. To me, this was a turn-off.
I would also like to point out that this book is fiction, yet in some ways, it mirrors the author’s life. Chimamanda is Nigerian, born into an Igbo family in the town of Nsukka, came to America to study and work, and now splits her time between Nigeria and the U.S. She has many degrees and acclamations for her writings. She has given lectures regarding writing, cultures, and feminism.
This book would have been better written as non-fiction, because she didn’t distance herself enough from the fictional character, Ifemelu. Throughout the book, I turned to the back cover to look at her picture, and I knew it was her speaking through the main character. Like the author, Ifemelu is from Nigeria, born into an Igbo family in Nsukka, and comes to America for her studies.
Chimamanda was quoted in an interview, saying, “I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.”
The likeness of Chimamanda and Ifemelu’s life, along with the anger, is exactly what the reader will experience. I’m not a feminist, nor am I angry, so her angry writing didn’t do her justice with me. I completely disagree with her that we should all be angry. Why? The world is already angry, angry about feminism, racism, economy, government, the list goes on. There’s no need to breathe anger into people when it already exists, and in my opinion, suffocates purpose. Instead of being angry, create a love of who we are and acceptance.
When Ifemelu first arrives in America, she can’t get a job, and falls into a depression. She mentions that in Nigeria, depression doesn’t exist. If you don’t put a name on it, it isn’t there, but Americans put a name on everything. I found this quite interesting, because I didn't realize that many countries don’t discuss or acknowledge depression.
Ifemelu begins blogging about racial issues, the blog takes off, and she starts to give lectures. Over time, she winds up making more money with her blog and lectures than any other job. While still working as a babysitter, she meets her employer’s cousin, a rich, white boy, who ultimately helps her get a green card.
“With Curt, she became, in her mind, a woman free of knots and cares, a woman running in the rain with the taste of sun-warmed strawberries in her mouth.”
“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.”
She also talks and blogs about black women’s hair. How difficult it is to maintain. How black women don’t wear it natural because it’s not acceptable for job interviews, etc. She goes into detail how black women use relaxers and burn their hair straight, and those who wear it natural, afro style or braids, avoiding the harsh chemicals. This taught me how black women struggle with their hair.
There’s a part in the book where Ifemelu blogs about “Why Dark-Skinned Black Women—Both American and Non-American—Love Barack Obama”. From the post:
“But today most of the American blacks who are successful as entertainers and as public figures are light…He broke the mold! He married one of their own. He knows what the world doesn’t seem to know: that dark black women totally rock. In movies, dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.”
Ifemelu or Chimamanda, I can’t decipher who, is making a point that dark black skinned women may now be recognized as being relevant and beautiful. The Nigerian book club member clarified this when we came across the word Akata. He explained that Nigerians don’t look too kindly on African Americans. I found this video, of a woman discussing the word akata - [...] And here’s another video of a young lady discussing African vs. African American. [...] I learned something new, something I would have never known as a white woman—the differences—and find it intriguing. The way the woman in the second video approaches the subject is great and informative. And she’s not angry.
Since Chimamanda and Ifemelu are somewhat the same, I can’t help but think that the author used a fictional character to voice her views. Again, she should have written a non-fiction book about the cultural differences between America and Nigeria. Non-American Blacks vs. Black Americans.
There are also parts in the book where the author never finishes a relationship or action. She babysits for two children and has a friendship with the mother, her employer. Once she starts dating her employer’s cousin, Curt, the reader never hears about them again. Also, while she is set to leave America for Nigeria, she promises her hairdresser, who wants to stay in the U.S., that Ifemelu will contact a man the hairdresser likes and talk to him about marrying her. That is all we hear about it. The end of the so-called first love romance is hastily wrapped up on the last page.
This was the first time I liked a book, but not the main character. The main character, Ifemelu, is an angry woman, echoing Chimamanda. She dates a rich, white guy, who helps her get her green card. He makes her feel great, but she cheats on him because she is 'curious'. Then she dates a black American, who is pompous, doesn’t treat her well, who she adores, and then she leaves him to go back to Nigeria.
The main problem I had with this character is she never grows. She remains stagnant, angry, bitter, and judgmental. There’s a part in the book where she’s talking with a “large-hipped, stylish poet from Haiti with an Afro bigger than hers” who stated that for 3-years she dated a white man and race wasn’t an issue. Here’s how the rest of the dialogue goes:
“That’s a lie,” Ifemelu said to her.
“What?” the woman asked, as though she could not have heard properly.
“It’s a lie.” Ifemelu repeated.
The woman’s eyes bulged. “You’re telling me what my own experience was?”
This is a perfect example of how Ifemelu approaches everything in the book. Her opinion is the only one. When she dates the white guy, Curt, his positivity bothers her. When she dates the black American, his academia bothers her. She is forever aggravated, judgmental and lacks empathy. I can only recall once when she sympathizes with a hairdresser of hers. Other than that, Ifemelu never is appreciative of the good things she receives. She never looks inside herself regarding self-improvement.
Due to some of the book sounding more like a scolding than a story, and the main character’s lack of growth, I give this book 3.5/5 stars. I would recommend it with some warnings, but I don’t think I’ll read another book by this author again.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
Ifemelu is the titular Americanah, returning to Lagos, Nigeria, after shutting down her blog and a breakup. As she sits in a hair salon, getting her braids done, she reflects on her relationship with Obinze, whom she had left behind in Lagos, and become estranged with after a traumatic episode she suffered while she was a young postgrad in Philadelphia, and the backstory of their young love and her journey to the States ensues. The narrative weaves seamlessly through the past and present, and occasionally focuses on Obinze, though Ifemelu is clearly the main focaliser of the story.
Through Ifemelu's controversial blog on race relations in America, Adichie discusses weighty issues that Ifemelu confronts as a kind of insider-outsider where she is suddenly made aware of her skin colour and difference from African Americans, and the befuddling contradictions that go with asserting her identity. The contents of Ifemelu's blog, which are interspersed throughout most of the novel, is an effective way of broaching these issues without becoming too preachy or derailing the narrative.
Ifemelu is also struck by the attitudes of fellow immigrants from Nigeria. She observes of some online writers and what they would do after visiting their hometowns on hard-earned savings: "Afterwards, they would return to America to fight on the Internet over their mythologies of home, because home was now a blurred place between here and there, and at least online they could ignore the awareness of how inconsequential they had become."
As a novel that details characters' cross-cultural experiences, it is easy to lapse into caricature and generalisations, but Adichie succeeds in presenting a nuanced account which is both moving and thought-provoking.
Adichie's deconstruction of race in America, as seen through a newcomer's eyes, is potent and compelling. She has a keen eye and a delicate, almost considerate, touch when discussing sensitive (for most white folks) topics like white privilege and ignorance.
In some places her prose is languid and poetic and in others it feels taut and affected. It all somehow works, though. Despite the divergent flow of the writing, it feels natural and necessary and intentional.
I liked Ifemelu and Obinze and I rooted for them both. Together and separately, as they were navigating their worlds. I felt for each other as they celebrated triumphs and weathered their personal storms. Although I can't say I ever felt *wholly* invested in them as characters, they were so smart, open, and adventurous that I felt an easy kinship with them that was enough for me to want the best for them.
I'd like to give this five stars but, if I'm honest, Americanah is a bit of a mess. It's a little bit all over the place (timeline, narration, location, genre) but everywhere it ends up is beautiful in its own right. I would happily recommend it.