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Americanah, a review

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Americanah, a review



Title: Americanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher: Kachifo Limited; Lagos, Nigeria

Pages: 477

Reviewer: Funke Osae-Brown


Contemporary African literature has taken a new turn in this century with the kind of subject matter authors of this era are taking on. Recently, writers of contemporary Nigerian literature are very ambitious in their themes, characterisation and general presentation of their works.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie falls in this category of established contemporary writers with her recent novel, ‘Americanah’. For the first time, I believe Adichie is very original in terms of her story line, ideology and the general sequence of events in the narrative. Unlike her debut, ‘The Purple Hibiscus’ which she modeled after Chinua Achebe’s works and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ where she borrowed largely from existing novels on the civil war like Chukuwuemeka Ike’s ‘Sunset at Dawn’, Adichie speaks in her own natural voice as she pushes strongly her socio-political ideologies in ‘Americanah’.

‘Americanah’ tells the story of Ifemelu, a young female who grew up in Nigeria and falls in love with Obinze as a teenager. It is an interesting love story about the two childhood sweethearts while in school in Nigeria. However, their lives take a new turn when they had the opportunity to seek fortunes outside the country. Ifemelu travels to America while Obinze goes to England. It is on the plot of their experiences abroad that this great story is spun.

Most parts of the novel are written in flashback. The narrative begins where Ifemelu is in a New Jersey salon to have her braided as she prepares to return home to Nigeria after 15 years of living in America. It is from this point the reader encounters the sense of dislocation felt by Ifemelu and other characters she meets at the salon. It mirrors how Africans from different countries, histories and class structures, handle racism in America.

The plot cuts across interesting themes such as contemporary attitudes to race, issues of identity, loss and loneliness in America, England and Nigeria where racism is non-existent. Adichie creates realistic well rounded characters in her novel. Her portrayal of the lead character, Ifemelu, is unpretentious. It is through her eyes the reader is taken into the rare world of racial discrimination the American society and Africans who have sojourn in American have been silent about.

Adichie depicts Ifemelu as a spirited young girl with strong opinions but Obinze, grew up with romanticised perception of the west. His view of America and Europe is largely shaped by the books of Graham Greene, Mark Twain and James Baldwin which he has read. However, when Ifemelu is presented with an opportunity to continue her postgraduate studies in Philadelphia, she grabs it. A few years later, Obinze, would also travel to Britain in search of a better life.

It is at this point the author begins to open up on her encounter with racism having lived in America for many years herself. She tellingly renders her account through Ifemelu’s eyes. In America, Ifemelu finds it difficult to get part-time work because she is an African. She is turned away when she applies for menial jobs as a waitress, bartender or cashier.

Also in school, her fellow students carefully speak to her slowly as if she cannot understand English because she is African. In addition, dating a white man and an African is a challenge because of racial discrimination.

Eventually, Ifemelu begins sharing her experiences on her blog which makes her become a popular blogger. This aspect of the novel plus the eerie feeling that comes with Obama election captured in the novel gives it a currency that makes Adichie a great writer.

Finally, Adichie makes strong political statements with the black hair. She realistically portrays American society as a place where black women are expected to relax their natural hair with toxic chemicals in order to conform to white norms. In fact, a black woman wearing her natural hair (Kinky hair) or braids cannot get a job let alone have the opportunity to be interviewed for one. In addition, Adichie captures vividly, the self righteousness of American and European returnees to Nigeria who are quick to criticize everything that does not work in Nigeria as they compare the Nigerian system with America or Europe. In the same vein, she exposes the hypocrisy of the Nigerian society where it becomes a sin if you are not married at a certain age hence Ifemelu’s friend, Ranyinudo, is under pressure to get married.

To this end, Americanah tells a great story that makes the reader change the way he looks at the world.




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