Book Reviews

Book Review – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Release Date: 11 April 2013
Rating: 3/5
Source:  Advance copy from the folks over at Fourth Estate

Synopsis:  From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. 

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives. 

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

Confession time:  I’ve never actually read what is arguably Adichie’s seminal work, Half of a Yellow Sun.  I started to.  I made it halfway through it.  And then I got bored.  I wanted to read it, to like it, to appreciate it for the heartfelt genius everyone said it was.  But I just couldn’t slog through it.

Whew.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about her forthcoming novel, Americanah.

I had conflicting opinions about this book… I felt it was longer than it needed to be but at the same time I enjoyed Adichie’s language and her almost lyrical usage of it.  I didn’t exactly like Ifemelu but I identified with her.

Now I know you’re asking – ‘how can you identify with an Nigerian girl who moves to the USA and encounters racism and unfair treatment in a predominantly white country?’  Easier than you might think.  My journey to London from the USA is very similar to Ifemelu’s.

There’s a sort of spiritual journey when leaving your country for another and mine closely matched Ifem’s.  You leave, almost happy to go but homesick all the same.  You go through a period of where you deny your heritage, where you’ve come from.  It’s almost as if you’re embarrassed to be whatever your nationality.  You adopt the accent or dialect of the people around you, as strange as it might be.  You immerse yourself in the ways of your new home, shedding your old one like a snake skin to blow away in the wind.

And then, something happens and things change.  You wake up one morning realizing you’ve lost your identity, your cultural mojo, and all of a sudden you’re not so eager to stay silent or join in when your colleagues or friends bash your country.  You start to well up when you hear your national anthem or when an athlete from your country wins a medal in the Olympics.  You begin to long for the foods and the people of your home and nothing can satisfy that need for familiarity except making the journey back.

At least, that’s how it’s happened for both myself and Ifem.  I get it.

I also got Ifemelu’s blogging… obviously.  My blog is most certainly superficial brain candy compared to her serious blog about race and racism in the US.  I can’t compare to that.  But I can compare my feelings for The London Diaries to Ifem’s feelings towards her blog–it’s quite simply my baby.  Like Ifem, I think I’d feel a bit lost without it now.  And while mine hasn’t taken off as much as hers, there are days where I do still sit and hit the refresh button to see how many viewers I’ve had.  Embarrassing but true.

I didn’t necessarily like Americanah, but I got it.  I can appreciate the book without liking it.  I can relate heavily to Ifemelu, to her experiences and to her love for writing and that’s all I need to give the book a rating of 3 out of 5.  Will I finally go back and try to reread Half a Yellow Sun?  Probably not.  I don’t think I’m really a fan of Adichie, but I get her.  And sometimes, that’s even better than entertaining a reader.

steph2

If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1.  Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. Do you think you *need* to be able to ‘identify’ with characters in order to appreciate or enjoy fiction? I personally don’t. There’s no way that I could ‘identify’ with most of Adichie’s characters on a level except that many of them are female. Half of a Yellow Sun is one of my favourite novels, not least because I learnt about lives very different from my own and a history I wanted to know about but also because the tumultuous relationships are compelling.

    1. I agree with you in that I don’t feel like I need to identify with main or sub characters in a novel to appreciate or enjoy the book. But I also know that for some people who I’ve talked to about this, being able to identify with characters does help them to enjoy fiction more–especially if they’re not big readers to begin with. Some of my favourite novels I don’t identify with at all, and others I do… but then again I read more than most people I know.

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