Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche


The story is about a young, intelligent Nigerian woman who goes to America to go to school more so because America is where young, intelligent Nigerians go. She goes with all the earnestness of a new immigrant, but not a typical immigrant we are used to portraying in our media. She is one of millions from all over the globe who come on student visas, brought up in their own country in whatever middle class standard is prevalent, and are considering staying in America and becoming professionals but, once reality sets in, have a harder time deciding America is not for them.

The book is the journey of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman and details the reasons why young people in Nigeria, specifically, and worldwide, generally, see opportunity in America as a viable opportunity to live better lives. She has a lover in Nigeria who must stay when she leaves but the couple see themselves together, possibly in America, after she gets her education.

A sexual assault not long after she arrives in America shames her, changes her and she cuts communication with her Nigerian lover. She feels isolated and alone. That she can’t really tell him over such a great distance, plus he would want her to come home, or he would want to come, neither choice she was ready to make. This decision not to tell him is one of the single most important decisions of her life.

In addition, she realizes that before coming to America she never considered herself "black" in such a way that made her race relevant to anything. Everyone was black where she came from and she soon realizes that being “black” in America is the symbol for a whole lot of problems as well as cultural prejudices Americans, both Black and White, accept or reject.

There are problems here.

She starts writing a blog about being a non-American black in America, often criticizing both white and black relationships.

She has many lovers, and relationships, physical and emotional. She continues to miss Nigeria as represented by her family and former lover, who has become a success, gotten married in a more traditional way, yet continues to burn for Ifemelu.

Years later, she returns to Nigeria wanting to contact her old lover who she knows is married and has a child. The decision she makes is the pivot upon which the last part of the book rotates.

This is a feminist book. It’s the story of the evolution of political thought in an non-American black woman, which allows it to provide detail and perspective about America that one does not normally get from Native writers, both black and white. There isn’t the anger nor the apology but more a sense of the fallibility of believing America has some “special” quality above and beyond what other cultures can provide. It’s kind of like having Mark Twain attend a dinner party in upscale New York to discuss The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

There were times reading this that I had the sense Adiche wasn’t being fair on the other side of the “race’ equation. It may be true that “race” in America is rooted in the difference between “race’ as racist want to define it, but although everyone in Africa is “black” still some of the worst hatreds and genocides of the modern ages have come out of Africa.


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