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Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

17th January, 2016

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

Why should a novel be about one thing?”- A quote from the book summarizes this piece of writing. Braided into the norms imposed on Afro hair in America are stories of military rule in Nigeria, racism, political changes in America, plights of immigration and above all, a love story.

Review:

This is one of the best books I have read so far. As each page unfolds, we delve deeper into different concerns, pretty much like Russian dolls kept one inside the other. The hardships faced by those who flee their homeland wrapped in the perils of military rule in Nigeria that wrecks the lives of the citizens, wrapped in a timeless love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, pretty much sums up the book.

“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”

Obinze is obsessed with American culture and hopes to go there one day. But the political situation in Nigeria forces Ifemelu to leave for America to complete her studies while fate takes Obinze to England. Ifemelu successfully makes a living in America and later on starts a blog on the life on immigrant blacks while Obinze fails as a refugee and returns to Nigeria to later carve a place for himself as a wealthy business man. When they meet after years, they are faced with difficult choices of loyalty, love and a haunting past.

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

A recurring theme is that of black hair – how African women are expected to relax their natural curls with toxic chemicals to get accepted in a white world. There are delicate passages that burst with beauty (like “Aunty Uju collected all her dissatisfactions in a silk purse, nursing them, polishing them, and then … she would spill them out on the table, and turn each one this way and that, to catch the light”), furious ones (like Ifemulu saying “the moment I stepped into America, I became black”) and powerful ones (like the one who posts racist comments online is often an ordinary person who waits for his/her kids to come home from school).

“How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.”

Adichie has addressed the problems of race and life of immigrants who struggle to blend in with a culture alien to them inspite of being trapped in the one they were born into. On one hand, the book talks about the shock of the foreign culture so unlike the one shown in glossy magazines and TV shows and on the other hand  it paints the change in political scenes in America during Obama’s journey to become the first black President. The difference between an American-African (whose ancestors have lived in America for generations), African-American (a new immigrant to Africa) are similar yet so widely different in many aspects. The book gives us a glimpse of all the usual varieties of people one encounters – the racists, the over sympathetic liberals, the blacks who westernize themselves to fit in, the mushrooming rich immigrants who are more ‘Americanah’ than African, the gaps in inter cultural relationships and much more.

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

When a book talks about a lot of issues it often staggers into ersatz emotions and unconvincing side-characters. But this book is an exception – well crafted and bound in a concise mould, it takes the reader through the lives of many and the unavoidable choices they make to survive in another country. Adichie is brilliant in her writing style and well structured in her erudition of the themes of the novel. The novel is ambitious and presents thought provoking scenarios in light and often funny scenarios. I loved every page of the novel. Buy it. Read it.

Title : Americanah
Author : Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Publisher : Knopf
Published : 2013
Language : English
Pages : 496
Rating : 5/5

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Americanah

About the Author

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is the author of three novels, Purple Hibiscus(2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013). Her short story collection is named The Thing around Your Neck (2009). Americanah was nominated for several awards and won Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award.

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This Post Has 30 Comments
    1. That is wonderful. You are so gonna love this. The fact that the book is so sharp in its writing and frank in what it advocates makes it a must-read. I really enjoyed this one. It was a cannot-put-down-until-finished book.

  1. Love your edition of Americanah (I’ve always seen the teal one with yellow typography), Resh Susan! It looks fantastic, and I’m so happy that you’ve had a good start of the year with all these fantastic reads. I actually haven’t read this yet but it’s definitely on my TBR since it’s tackles a very interesting but relatable topic.

    1. Thank you. I have saved for months to buy the hardcover one because I heard its such a great book and deserves to be a hardbound one. I actually read this towards the end of last year. I have not properly dived into books this year. Hoping to get some reading done soon. It is an amazing book, never boring even for a moment. Hope you read it as soon as you can.

  2. Great review, I think I might check this book out now. I’ve seen it floating around before but never really known what it’s about. It sounds fascinating! Also, your book photos are always so beautiful!

    1. Thank you very much Kristie. You should definitely look this one up. It deals with such strong issues and incidents yet with a language that is not harsh or too ‘literary’. So many truths have been listed in the book. Chimamanda’s frankness totally gets you!

    1. Thank you Maria. So glad to find a fellow reader who loved the book so much. I love how she talks about so many different things in a single book yet manages to keep the strings intact. Powerful novel indeed.

    1. I am sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy the book. Well, we all have different tastes right? It often happens with me too. Books that are over hyped seldom work for me. But Americanah did. Do try Chimamanda’s other works before abandoning works by the author. I have heard Half of a Yellow Sun is a good one too I have not read that. Purple Hibiscus, which is her first novel is pretty amazing.

  3. I got a lot out of this book, especially as an insight into Ifemelu’s experience as an African woman living in America. It made me realise just how important our language and gestures can be when we’re communicating with people who were born and raised in a different culture.

    1. You are absolutely right. Sometimes we do things unknowingly which might hurt the sentiments of others. I liked the way she wrote how the over sympathetic liberals annoy the people of a different race. And more than being helpful, they damage their self esteem.

  4. I’ve seen this one around (LOVE the cover). Thank you for the detailed review. The quote you included give a good taste of the prose style. Adding this one to the TBR pile.

  5. Hi Resh, I am glad to have discovered your blog. 🙂 And, I loved this review as much as I loved the book. I have ‘Purple Hibiscus’ in my stash, but I haven’t read it yet. It is comforting to learn that Adichie hasn’t written a lot of books yet, and I have some time to catch up.

    By the way, I love your pictures. 🙂

    1. Hi Deepika. Welcome. Thank you for the lovely words. I highly recommend Purple Hibiscus. Very well written for a debut. Except the ending which happened tooo fast. I greatly admire her as a writer.

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