Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahIt’s an oldie but a REAL goodie. In fact, “Americanah” is one of two books so far I have given 5 stars on Good Reads (yes, I’m pretty stingy about my 5 stars but even stingier with 1 star that I’ve only given to 1 book).
The author of the book is a very clever woman and I love the way she thinks. Before “Americanah” I listened to her TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” and read the expanded version of this speech in an essay published in book form “We Should All Be Feminists” so my hopes for “Americanah” were high.

“Americanah” is a story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu who moves to the USA to study. Her childhood sweetheart Obinze hopes to join her one day but things between them don’t go exactly as planned. He still plans to join her (whether she wants it or not ;)) but his visa is denied and he ends up moving to the UK instead.
Ifemelu struggles with racial relations in the US, distinctly different to what she knows from Nigeria. She’s subjected to both racism and xenophobia but after many sacrifices manages to build a life for herself. Obinze, on the other hand, struggles as a menial worker and experiences visa issues. Will the two be ever reunited? Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and read this book to find out.

“Americanah” is a great novel on many levels. From a purely aesthetic point of view it’s  beautifully written. The sentences are slightly poetic but not overly sentimental and it makes reading this novel a pleasure.
Perhaps more importantly, this book has a lot to say about modern world. It discusses different kinds of immigration, showing the struggles of immigrants starting with visa issues and financial constraints, through everyday difficulties of being an outsider, all the way to trying to figure out one’s identity in a new place.
For me it was a very emotional read because I could share a lot of pain I experienced during my own expat odyssey. Of course, there were many things that the protagonist had to deal with that had to do with her race specifically that I could only empathise with (this is not to say fully understand). There are many clever and brave observations about race relations in this novel and I really appreciated the clever person, who put it all together.
I also think that this kind of evocative writing is what can cause people to understand immigrants more, which is crucial seeing what kind of problems we’re dealing with worldwide.

The commentary on race and immigration is a crucial element in the novel, however, I it’s also a love story. This is the marketing angle as well, which I think is quite sad because this novel is so much more than just another love story.
We first learn about Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s relationship as they’re growing up and young love is presented in a very relatable way. Due to a split narrative we see from both sides how the characters feel about what happens to them during Ifemelu’s stay in America. We also see other relationships some of the protagonist(s), some of secondary characters. They are all craftily designed to show many different dynamics in relationships: wealth differences, age differences, interracial dynamics in relationships…
There’s a whole range of engaging relations in this novel. I could feel when reading it how everything was planned to be meaningful.

That perhaps is my only criticism of “Americanah”: there were some parts of it when I could almost see the plan for the novel coming out. Just bits and pieces that felt like an agenda to say this or other thing.
Having said that, overall it’s a very genuine and powerful book. I really enjoyed the slightly slower pace of the novel and I wanted to savour it, on purpose postponing finishing it, to ration what I had still left to read.
The only other novel I could think of when reading it was “War and Peace” and this is a pretty good benchmark to be compared to.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone. I think immigrants will find something to relate too, people who’re not immigrants or black will get some insight into the lives and thoughts of others and even those who just like an epic love story will be satisfied.

Have you read “Americanah”?, Dear Rinser? What’s your favorite novel ever and why?

 

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18 comments

    • I’m still to read “Half a Yellow Sun”. I believe that “Americanah” was the last novel she’s written. Sure, she’s still young and has potential but I’m a bit scared it’s a similar case like with Jeffrey who hasn’t written a novel after his masterpiece “Middlesex”. Another one on my list of my favorite novels!

      Check out the TED Talk. Just a fair warning that she does speak up about the issue of men paying 😉

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  1. My first encounter with Chimamanda was with Purple Hibiscus, which made me fall in love with her writing. As you described, the slow pace of the book made everything written so meaningful; I devoured it and had to read it again. Very special.

    Half of a Yellow was also an excellent read, better than Purple Hibiscus. I am still angry about the end and demise of 1 of the characters though :(. But everything you have just described here made me not realize, but REMEMBER how much I LOVED Americanah. What a powerful novel! In Ifemelu, Chimamanda created a such a wholesome character; a protagonist who had her mistakes, admitted to them, was curious and amazingly observant. A human. She wasn’t perfect, navigating a world which she had always thought would be perfect because of how Obinze had always described the US to her, only to realize that perfection lay right in her backyard. It wasn’t JUST a love story; she touched on troubled marriages, infidelity; neglected children, the American Dream in real life and not the image we create of it, so many things.

    This was a great review for a great book. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sihle! I’ve read “Purple Hibiscus” too but only after “Americanah”. I like the style of PH. I felt sorry for the protagonist and her family. I felt that it was a good depiction of the dynamics of family abuse. I did feel like I understand it on an intellectual level more than on an emotional level, if that makes sense. The story just didn’t drag me in entirely but how you read a novel is obviously very subjective.
      I’m looking forward to reading “Half a Yellow Sun” (already have a copy!) and “The Thing Around Your Neck”.

      Yes, Ifemelu is great. I have a feeling there was a lot of the author in her. I also really liked learning about Obinze’s point of view. I like it that he tried to move on, eventually because a lot of novels would rather have him wait for Ifemelu forever. It made their love story more realistic – a bit messy, like in real life. I also thought that the ending was very strong (but at the same time a bit magical ;)).

      Thanks for your comment! Knowing that my writing can do something for people – like remind them about a great novel they’ve read it’s what makes it worthwhile 🙂

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      • Do you make notes in books as you read? I’ve started doing it and it definitely helps me remember what I’ve read as well as make sense of difficult books much more easily. I’m wondering what systems people use.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I usually don’t make notes but that’s because I studied literature and it puts me in a different state of mind – more analytical than appreciative.
        I always write a review on Goodreads after I’m done and additionally, if it’s related to what we write about on Rinse, a review here to remember my thoughts from reading.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Writing a review is a good idea! I’ve thought about designing a template for a sort of “book report” for myself to fill out when I’m done, but I’m not sure what to put on it yet. I’m sure those already exist now that I think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure such a thing exists online (like pretty much anything one can think of :D) but designing your own is probably better. It’s pretty subjective what are the important lessons for you from a book and what you’d like to still have a reminder of in a few years.

      For self-help and non-fiction books I often use colorful sticky notes and I underline things. It’s also much easier with e-readers where you can just mark a passage and make a note to self.

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