Saturday, July 27, 2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a strong and vibrant novel about identity, belonging and race. Nigerian-born Ifemelu does not think of herself as Black until she moves to the United States for college. There, she cannot escape the all-pervasive racism that accompanies her skin colour. She eventually starts a blog directed at other non-American Blacks, explaining the cultural differences they will encounter in the USA. Ifemelu finds a supportive community and intellectual engagement online.

Blogging is an obvious hook for me, and novels that are written in a mix of formats appeal to me too, so I really liked the excerpts from Ifemelu's blog posts that appear intermittently throughout the book.

Ifemelu is considered a difficult person by some of the other characters, but I love her defiant self-reliance and her forthright manner. When she behaves badly, she is usually quick to make amends... except when it comes to affairs of the heart. One character tells Ifemelu that she is too hard, and that she "has the spirit of husband-repelling." Boyfriends are her biggest challenge.
"Ifemelu once told [her African American boyfriend Blaine] as they watched a news item about a celebrity divorce, that she did not understand the unbending, unambiguous honesties that Americans required in relationships. 'What do you mean?' he asked her, and she heard a looming disagreement in his voice; he, too, believed in unbending, unambiguous honesties. 
'It's different for me and I think it's because I'm from the Third World,' she said. 'To be a child of the Third World is to be aware of the many different constituencies you have and how honesty and truth must always depend on context.'"
Ifemelu's broken relationship with Obinze, the sweetheart of her youth, propels Adichie's narrative. Americanah is one of those rare books, a romance that affected me so deeply that I wept a little at the end.

It's pure chance that I was already listening to Daughters Who Walk This Path (Yejide Kilanko) when my hold for Americanah came in at the library. Ghana Must Go bags, unreliable electricity and traditional proverbs (Yoruba in one, Igbo in the other) are just a few of the small overlapping details in the two novels. I felt completely immersed in Nigerian culture for a while. Overall, however, Daughters Who Walk this Path is more like Adichie's debut novel Purple Hibiscus than Americanah.

Readalikes: Ghana Must Go (Taiye Selasi) and On Beauty (Zadie Smith). There are also similar themes of identity and belonging in the latter part of We Need New Names (NoViolet Bulawayo).

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