on 25 August 2014
This is a love story.
Not just between Ifemelu and Obinze, but for a country.
Adichie’s observations on America and Britain are cool, in both senses of the word. Precise, amused, sardonic and aware. Yet when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, the reader can sense passion.
Young lovers Ifemelu and Obinze are well-off, educated and intelligent individuals, who love their country. But only by leaving do they realise how well off they are. Ifemelu takes up a scholarship in the US and learns some harsh lessons about racial attitudes (NAB v AA), principles (how the word ‘relax’ differs when it comes to hair and tennis coaches) and the influence of class.
Obinze opts for a less secure route in Britain. Whereas Ifemelu, who’s started a blog, sees the funny side of assumption and prejudgement, Obinze’s treatment at the hands of authority and associates, leaves deep scars on his sense of self.
One feature I found especially endearing is the significance of the written word. Our hero and heroine share books, letters, emails and maintain a connection through words on a page. Reading, writing and books are doorways for these characters.
An articulate, broad and sharp analysis of the state we’re in, this is a beautifully written story about two people and a love that will always bring them back.
on 11 August 2014
I am a Black British girl of Nigerian decent. I consider myself both Nigerian and British.It says so much that I want to say, but can never articulate about my life, my dreams and hopes. I recommend it to anyone who doesn't just want to relate to black people, but actually understand us. How our culture makes us think and live. How rich we are in those terms. No more sweeping statements like "I went to Africa". Africa isn't a country, it's a continent. Kenya isn't the same as Nigeria. African Americans aren't the same as Africans or Black British. Let's start the real conversation. Ask us real questions. As for the book, the story is beautiful and raw and makes no apologies for the topic it tries to portray. The only weakness is the ending.
Americanah is the story of Ifemelu, her early life in Nigeria, her time as an expat working in America, and her return to her home country. It is the story of her family, friends, and lovers. It is an account of the expatriate African experience in America and the UK, and of the expatriate returning to Nigeria. It is the story of Ifem's hair as it changes to match her self perception. Above all it is a love story about Ifemelu and Obinze, "the Zed".
Adichie is the most glorious author, writing in a style which is absolutely bursting with vitality. Right from the very first page her brilliance with language is in evidence as she describes shops as being "delicately over-priced". In those two words she manages to convey everything about the establishments in question. When I read Half a Yellow Sun I was struck by her ability to convey restrained passion, and it is evident again here. There is a conversation between Ifem amd Obinze in the latter part of the book where they are talking about everything except their passionate mutual attraction, but which is nevertheless crackling away beneath the surface.
Through the book Ifemelu's self perception, love life and hairstyle follow aligned, intertwining pathways as she goes from her own country, to arriviste, to aspirational American with straight hair and white boyfriend, to academic with right-on African American partner and afro hair, and back to Nigera, its men and her cornrows.
This is not a primarily plot driven novel. There is a definite central story which holds everything together, but Adichie takes her time in telling it, giving her the space to explore her themes and develop her characters. Chief among these is the magnificent Ifem who deserves to take her place alongside Emma Woodhouse and Scarlett O'Hara as potentially unlikeable but strangely endearing and certainly feisty heroines. She is sympathetically drawn, intelligent, principled, passionate, but woe betide anyone, male or female who comes between her and what she wants, professionally or personally.
The most interesting theme is the exploration of what it means to be a black expatriate living in America. The fact that Ifem unashamedly, proudly uses the word "black" characterises her attitude. Early on she makes a distinction between African American and American African and this is key as she explores racism in America, both recognising the reality and cutting through what she sees as the ridiculousness of over sensitive middle class sensibilities and attitudes. There is a fascinating section where she is torn between attraction to Hilary Clinton as a woman running for the presidency and to Barack Obama as a black candidate.
I did get the feeling as I read Americanah that Adichie, if she wasn't a wonderful novelist, could build a career as an observational comedian. Her frequently forensic dissection of the minutiae of her characters is highly perceptive, deeply empathetic, but also bordering on the hilarious. Much of the early part of the book is told in retrospect as Ifem sits in a hairdresser's and the characters around her, while completely incidental to the main story, are just wonderfully drawn.
If I had criticisms of the book they would be twofold. Firstly some of the characters, especially when Obinze travels to London, are on the border of tipping over into pastiche. An anglicised friend and his wife are close to the same territory as the "English Indian" couple from "Goodness Gracious Me". Secondly, the ending feels just a little bit underpowered. With 5% (I read it on Kindle) of the book left I found myself wondering how on earth the story was going to resolve itself, and to be honest while it came to a clear conclusion, it didn't feel as if everything had been properly worked through, and I ended the book not quite liking Ifem and Zed as much as I wanted to.
However, that may just be another part of the totally credible realism of the book, realism which is achieved without in the least damaging the fact that this is , above all, a huge entertainment.
on 11 July 2014
A young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, sick of the lecturers' strikes which are disrupting her university education, travels to America to restart her degree. Left behind is her teenage sweetheart, Obinze. The two young lovers keep in contact via emails, letters, and calls made using an international phone card. Their plan is to be together again just as soon as university is over.
However, Ifemelu is struggling in America. She cannot find work, her rent is due, and the bills for her tuition fees are building up. Desperate for money, she makes a decision which changes the course of her life, leading her to cut off all contact with a bewildered Obinze.
This is a story of true love, of choices, and of race. Other reviewers have commented that they found Ifemelu hard to like as a character; I disagree. Yes, she is opinionated and, at times, rather selfish, but she is also witty, deeply loyal to her family, as well as being hugely vulnerable. I found her an incredibly well-drawn human being.
If you're looking for a plotty novel, this is perhaps not for you - it is more ponderous than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's previous works. I found myself frustrated that we kept returning to the scene in the hair-braiding salon over and over again. However, if you want a thought-provoking read with precise and beautiful writing, and engaging, believable characters, then I would highly recommend this book.
on 19 April 2013
Chinua Achebe died this year and the media went on and on about the "father of African literature" in that labelling way with which the media marks events. You may also have noticed that as the great man passed on there was no great debate about who would take over from the man who gave us Things Fall Apart because - in a very short space of time - Nobel Laureates for Literature have included the African observers Lessing, Gordimer, Soyinka, Coetzee and Mahfouz with many more unsung but established African writers waiting in the wings not for awards, but for you to discover them as Africans have for decades.
"Americanah" marks an important milestone for novels about Africa. Nothing that can be said about this rollicking ballsy brilliant read could match the emotional punches Adichie threw in the direction of my African heart. We went from secondary school in Nigeria to the maze of cities and continents where Nigerians reached in their escape from "choicelessness" and back again to Lagos with the kind of brash confidence only an African pen could yield when talking about African lives. And then she takes a surgical scalpel to the issues of race and identity; to the giddiness of the election of America's first black President to life as a black person in foreign lands - in conversations and scenes we all know and have argued about and she airs them at last.
Yes Adichie is younger than the old and the dead and her take on the African diaspora of the 21st century is the most authentic you will encounter, and if your heart beats, you will love these characters and fall in love with a love story like no other. I finished it and found myself clapping over the strength of her words and the reach of her vision.
on 15 June 2014
Americanah opens in a Nigeria which is under the rule of a military dictatorship at the turn of the twenty first century. The book follows the lives of two young students Ifemelu and Obinze who originally met and fell in love as teenagers while at secondary school. They lose touch after Ifemelu goes off to study in America. She then starts a very successful blog about race issues in America: while Obinze goes to England and lives in poverty as an illegal immigrant, before moving back to a democratic Nigeria. As one of the new wave returnees, he becomes a very wealthy entrepreneur. Ifemelu also eventually returns to Nigeria. Ifemelu and Obinze meet again and realize they need to understand what feelings they have for each other and decide whether to move on with their lives or spend it together. In my view this is a brilliantly written book by a gifted and insightful author. Ifemelu’s blog entries are interesting observations looking at the dynamic of both white and black Americans from an African immigrant’s perspective: however, there are many layers to this book. The power of this book is Chimamanda’s ability to draw in the reader into the world of the two main characters and I found myself absorbed by their loves, losses, triumphs and sorrows. This is a book that will appeal to anyone from any race or culture because essentially it is about the human condition. The writing style is as smooth as silk and very easy to read. I loved it.
on 25 March 2015
I really enjoyed this book.
Coming from a sociology background I relished the whole story from beginning to end as it incorporated so many contemporary themes from modern Africa, life in the USA, immigration in Europe, brain drain, blogging, mental health, the current state of academia, soccer moms, hipsterim and so many more. The biggest learning for me, and other readers of course, was on the topic of Race. The author/protagonist had some fascinating observations on the position of Africans and black people in the US and the world.
I also learned personally from reading the book, as it made me think differently about Nigerian and African immigrants living in Ireland. I now look at them in a different light and wonder about their lives and where they get their hair done!
So the actual story was interesting but verged a bit on chicklit at times. I did like the character of Ifemelu but found Obinze a little flat, as I did with most of Ifemelu's friends. The characters that intrigued most were Shan (Blaine's sister) and Kimberley (Ifemelu's American boss) who reminded me of character types that I know but are not often captured in literature.
The writing style was engaging but from time to time it felt as though it was just narrating a passage of time rather than making it interesting, especially in the final chapters.
The ending was quite disappointing and inconclusive... I would happily welcome a sequel!
on 11 January 2014
Having loved Half of a Yellow Sun when it came out, and recently rediscovered Chimamanda via her excellent TED talks, I was excited to read this novel. I really wanted to enjoy it. So it is with mixed feelings and a somewhat heavy heart that I write this review.
Essentially this is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze. The section of the book describing their growing up in Nigeria was excellent, Adiche is able to describe the essence of a situation and show you the world the way her characters view it. You get a feeling for the family dynamics, social structures, political background and even the climate. So far so good.
Eventually, Ifemelu moves to the US to study, loses contact with Obinze and spends the next 10 years floating around the American middle classes. At this point, for me, this largely stopped being a novel and became a lecture in identity politics. There is no subtlety, no being allowed to think for yourself as a reader, and as the book goes on I found myself distracted by how unbearably smug Ifemelu came across as. The book is basically a series of situations about which you are told what you should think. What I found increasingly ironic/irritating was how Ifem was allowed to cynically dissect everyone around her based on social and racial stereotypes, while this seemed to be exactly the issue she has with everyone else.
So, while Ifemelu is beautiful, intelligent and apparently infallible, Obinze is attractive and nice and all other blandly positive adjectives, except he is slightly lacking in a backbone. His time in the UK as an illegal immigrant was actually one of my favorite parts of the book for its insight into a parallel experience of London, but again it was jarring how in every situation he behaved with absolute integrity, while everyone around him was flawed.
The love story and ending, as many other reviews have said, were entirely predictable, but the plot seemed largely incidental as a way to package a political statement. My main gripe with this book is the complete lack of any introspection; all main characters are Good, and incidental characters are Bad. It is difficult to take a lecture on the faults of others when the lecturer seems oblivious to their own.
on 20 April 2014
Four stars because the writing is flawless and unassailable. Mrs Adichie can summon a phrase, like poetry. Sylvia Plath. Close to perfection. The story, however is another thing.
To capsulise the story. A young couple separated when the girl, Ifemelu, got funding to collage in America. She felt worthless when she did something that could well be labelled prostitution due to pressure from lack. She, as a result, deserted her boyfriend due to the guilt. she stopped contacting. Days turned months. Years passed. Her second, Obinze, accepted his faith. The novel is mostly about how she struggled through studies and relationships in the States. It is not plot driven. Race and hair, which lurked in the background, tend to be the the focus - if i have the correct reading.The story has no theme.
I like her concentration on things that would normally go unnoticed in prose. She must have been reading poems when writing this. The character, Ifemelu, is more annoying that annoying. I think Ngozi Adichie was trying to create a strong outspoken African woman - possibly a feminist - who was proud of her heritage. She did not, for example, take up an American accent. She was a nonconformist that would initiate sexual contact when she felt like it, that sort of thing. But she ended up creating a bitch.
I will recommend it.
on 6 April 2014
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, an intelligent, strong willed, highly opinionated Nigerian who with her boyfriend, Obinze, grow up with a desire to live in America. They wish to live the American dream: the romanticized view of America they read about in books and see on television programmes like The Cosby Show.
During one of the many strikes at the university, Ifemelu decides to apply to finish her studies in America on a scholarship. Her application is successful and she leaves Nigeria to live with her Aunt Ujo who already lives in the USA having fled Nigeria after her married lover, a high ranking general, is killed in a helicopter crash. Obinze promises to join Ifemelu once he has finished his studies but when he is ready to apply for his visa the world has changed post 9/11 and Obinze’s application fails so he tries his luck as an illegal immigrant in Great Britain.
Where Obinze fails, Ifemelu thrives. After writing an enthusiastically received post on the website, happilylinkynappy.com (a website dedicated to natural African hair), Ifemelu starts her own blog to write about her experiences in America and in time it becomes a highly respected and successful blog.
Having spent some thirteen years in America and recently witnessed Barack Obama’s election victory, Ifemelu prepares to return to her home country of Nigeria. As part of that preparation she visits a hair salon in the town of Trenton to have her hair braided in what amounts to a six hour session. It is during her time at the hair salon that the novel is mostly related in flashback.
Americanah is about race, dislocation, and the culture clash of Africa meets Britain and America. Ifemelu and Obinze are not escaping a war zone or a life of deprivation but are instead looking for opportunities that don’t exist in their own country. While living in Great Britain and the USA the couple are made aware of their race, their colour, things that in their own country were not regarded as restrictive or a barrier to opportunities.
While Americanah is a superbly written book and the author has a turn of phrase and descriptive powers that other authors can only dream about it is for me let down by Ifemelu’s personality. Ifemelu’s observations, in particular via her blog, border on polemical, didactic tirades. Ifemelu dislikes and criticises almost everyone around her and her relentless unforgiving diatribes create a weariness in the reader, a battle or compassion fatigue if you will.
Many of Ifemelu’s criticisms and views are at times generalistic, contradictory and at times border on the racist. She refers to Michelle Obama’s children as “beautiful chocolate babes” but then later in the same blog criticizes those who base their views on sweeping assumptions in regard to ‘degrees of blackness’. I don’t believe that Ifemelu would have been happy at a white person using the phrase, “beautiful chocolate babes”.
I found it hard to read Ifemelu’s view that other racial groups that suffer from prejudices don’t matter as much because they are white or at the least nearer to being white.
“Dear American non-Black, if an American Black person is telling you about an experience about being black, please do not eagerly bring up examples from your own life...Don’t say it’s just like anti-Semitism. It’s not. In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy – they are so clever, these Jews, they control everything, these Jews – and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy.”
Yes, I’m sure the Nazis were full of respect and envy as they murdered, tortured, gassed and experimented on six million Jews.
Americanah dissects with scalpel like precision, the American and British view of race, colour and the differences of being an African in American against being an African-American. The author holds up the proverbial mirror to America and Britain and forces those countries to re-evaluate their thinking, politics and views on the subject of race and colour. Unfortunately, those who should read this book to re-evaluate their opinions, won’t, if for no other reason than it is written by a black women.
However, with the novels harsh, unrelenting negativity the reader can begin to feel punch-drunk. Couple this with the book being about 100 pages too long and its obvious and predictable ending the novel falls sadly short of being the classic it could so easily have been.
First Line – “Princeton in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops and the quiet , abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.”
Memorable Line – “I’ve meet a lot of people here with white mothers and they are all so full of issues, eh. I didn’t know I was even supposed to have issues until I came to America. Honestly, if anybody wants to raise bi-racial kids, do it in Nigeria.”
Number of Pages – 477
Sex Scenes – None
Profanity – None
Genre – Fiction.