15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A wake up call?,
This review is from: Americanah (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 May 2014 13:18:51 BDT
Sex scenes - none? Not sure that's entirely true...
In reply to an earlier post on 28 May 2014 13:23:13 BDT
Christopher Sullivan says:
Hi! The sex between Ifemelu and Obinze not very graphic as sex scenes go, Personally, I believed the scene was written in a non-pornographic, titillating, way and didn't warrant being described as a sex scene as this may have given potential readers the wrong impression. But, I probably should have written yes regarding a sex scene but qualified the remark by adding the word 'mild'.
Posted on 30 May 2014 11:32:10 BDT
Garry Essendine says:
Really interesting review.
I could have sworn there was profanity in this (there's definitely sex!), but leaving that aside, I don't know if it's entirely fair to pick apart the "Raceteenth..." posts for being contradictory or not properly thought through. They're written in character, Ifemelu is not Adichie and there's nothing at all in the book to suggest we're meant to completely agree with her blog. Ifemelu makes a series of bad choices throughout the story, decisions which end up directly hurting herself and others, which in turn cast doubt on the validity of some of her more sweeping generalisations. Adichie's greatest strength (of many) is writing fully-formed, believable characters - her short story collection "The Thing Around Your Neck" is a masterclass in this - and I think Ifemelu and Obinze are her most realistic depictions yet, portrayed in a way that's sympathetic without asking for unqualified admiration. They're both flawed people, and we're left well aware that Ifemelu comes across as unlikeable to a number of other characters; right near the end, Obinze's wife (obviously somewhat biased, but still) seems to sum all of this up quite well.
"Raceteenth" represents an expression of Ifemelu's thoughts on 21st Century questions of race and identity (and not even her final thoughts at that, but rather those of the Ifemelu of halfway through the book, all written before the hair salon scene which is one of the only times we get to see her interacting with other "non-American blacks"), by her own admission written for an audience and therefore intended to stir up controversy and generate clicks. Whatever your thoughts on the actual content of the blog, it's surely undeniable it feels like it's a real blog that really could go viral and take off - it's perhaps the most brilliant fictional depiction of a Noughties blog that I've ever seen, and yet while Adichie (in real life an avid reader of blogs on hair and feminism) has caught the tone of Internet self-publishing with absolute dead-on laser accuracy, she never indicates she actually fully approves of what Ifemelu is posting. "Americanah" is full of people saying stupid or ignorant things that reveal aspects of their personalities, and I don't believe we're necessarily meant to exempt either Ifemelu or Obinze from that.
In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2014 17:58:38 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 30 May 2014 18:00:25 BDT]
In reply to an earlier post on 31 May 2014 11:40:44 BDT
Christopher Sullivan says:
Hi Garry. Firstly, thank you for kind comment about my review being interesting. Regarding profanity in the novel. When I read a book to review I have a notepad close at hand in which I write down information I believe will be important when it comes to writing the review. On looking back at my notes I made no reference to profanity but it is not beyond the reals of possibility that I simply forgot.
I understand that the character of Ifemelu is not the author and that is why I did wrote, " I found it hard to read Ifemelu's view." Garry, you make a lot of interesting points but of course there are some I can't agree with, e.g. "it's surely undeniable it feels like it's a real blog that really could go viral and take off". As i'm sure you are well aware that a review is an one person's opinion and I personally never intimate that my reviews are the last word on the matter. It is the wonderful nature of books that two people can read a novel and come away with polarized views. I'm assuming that you will be writing a review soon Garry, I look forward to reading it. Take care and again thanks for the kind words.
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