Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Americanah," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Americanah” (Knopf, 2013) is both a great achievement and a very enjoyable read. This novel by the accomplished writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is bursting with engaging plot, compelling characters, and acerbic observations on immigration, culture, and – especially – race in America. The title refers to Nigerians who go to America. The story focuses on two characters, the young woman Ifemelu and the young man Obinze, who grow up and fall in love in Nigeria, but become distanced when Ifemelu goes to the United States and Obinze to England. In their new countries, both struggle with financial problems, discrimination, and mystification at American and English ways. Eventually they both achieve success, in Ifemelu's case in the United States, and in Obinze's case back in Nigeria; they both end up back in Nigeria after quite a few years abroad, and there they each experience a sort of reverse culture shock but also a feeling of belonging. This novel lavishly describes workplaces, houses, love affairs, relationships with families and friends, fascinating supporting characters, and much more, in three different countries; it is a BIG novel, not only in its 477-page length, but in its scope and capaciousness. It reminds me of the great 19th Century English novels of Dickens et al. But what really distinguishes this novel, on top of the compelling story and characters, is the aptness, particularity, and tartness of Ifemelu’s insights and stories about how Americans think and talk and act regarding race. The device of her writing a very popular blog on race in America enables some of these observations; others rise out of the story itself. The comments are sometimes humorous but also barbed; they will leave many a “liberal,” including me, wondering if we have been as clueless -- even if unintentionally -- about race and culture as the people she writes about. But the writing is too good for the book to be simply a kind of disguised sermon; it definitely makes the reader think, but also gives the reader the traditional pleasures of a big, well written novel with the aforementioned engaging characters and turn-the-pages-to-see-what-happens-next plot. Highly recommended.


  1. I finally got around to reading Americanah for book club. Your description is the best of any I've read. You captured the essence so perfectly. I also appreciate your observations that when reading this novel, white US readers might find ourselves reflecting on our cluelessness when it comes to race. But as you point out this is not a "disguised sermon" but rather a very satisfying read.

    1. Thanks very much, Sarah, for these kind comments about my post on "Americanah."


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