Review: ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah I have never been to Africa, nor do I know much about its history. I vaguely remember the short unit on Africa in my AP World HIstory class in 10th grade, and it’s been that long since I read “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. Earlier this year, I walked through the Field Museum’s Africa exhibit. So my knowledge of Africa is very basic. My hope with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah” is a step to widen my knowledge of the continent.

“Americanah” follows Ifemelu and Obinze, who are young in love and living in military-controlled NIgeria. During university, they both sought a life in the West — Ifemelu makes it to Philadelphia with a student visa, Obinze does not. Post-9/11 American is closed to him and for a short time, he seeks a life in London, undocumented. Fifteen years later, they reunite in new democratic NIgeria and reignite their passion for not only each other but for Nigeria.

I loved reading “Americanah.” Loved it. White there was a focus on Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship, Adichie also showed what it is like to be an immigrant in the West and what America’s racial issues look like from the point of view of a non-American black.

“Americanah” showed the struggles of being an immigrant through Ifemelu’s experiences as a student. She struggled with finding a job, using a Social Security number that wasn’t hers, which led her into depression and cutting off contact with Obinze. After getting a babysitting job for a rich white family, she was able to pick herself up. We also see her observations of her Aunty Uju, who moved to America six or so years earlier. Aunty Uju worked three jobs to take care of her son, and spent hours studying to earn her American medical license.

You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed. —Aunty Uju, Chapter 11

Toward the end of her time in America, Ifemelu ran a blog titled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” Some of her blog posts are interspersed throughout her narrative chapters. Each post provides another point of view of America’s racial issues. I looked forward to when another blog post would appear. The book is written in third person, and the blog posts provided a first-person look into Ifemelu’s character.

In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds—class, ideology, region and race. … Americans assume that everyone will get their tribalism. But it takes a while to figure it all out. —Chapter 17

I really really loved Adichie’s setting descriptions. I felt as if I were in Ifemelu’s home in Lagos, or in her first apartment in Philly. My favorite is in chapter seven, and describes the harmattan, a dry and dusty easterly wind on the West African coast from December to February.

In Lagos, the harmattan was a mere veil of haze, but in Nsukka, it was a raging, mercurial presence; the mornings were crisp, he afternoons ashen with heat, and the nights unknown. Dust whirls would start in the far distance, very pretty to look at as long as they were far away, and swirl until they coated everything brown. Even eyelashes. Everywhere, moisture would be greedily sucked up; the wood laminate on tables would peel off and curl, pages of exercise books would crackle … —Chapter 7

“Americanah” is on my list of books to acquire after this book challenge is over. This a book everyone should read to gain a new perspective.

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