Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My book club finished the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Before reading it, I was curious and appreciated being introduced to the book.

Americanah is about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who leaves University in Nigeria and her first love, Obinze, to work and study in America. It delves into her troubles as a Non-American black woman. Racism she never experienced before, frustration in finding work, and a constant search to find herself. As an expat, I was able to relate to her sadness and depression. I have been away from the familiar, life’s comforts I had grown accustom to, and the freedom of speaking to whoever, whenever. Of course, I can’t identify with the racism aspect of it, but I can identify with the loneliness as an outsider, not understanding the language, and the shock of a different culture.

This book is a National Bestseller and voted “One of the Best Books of the Year” by the New York Times Book Review. I would have to agree that for the writing and historical purposes this book deserves to be a National Bestseller, but not necessarily one of the best books of the year. However, I believe it will make its way into African Studies. One of the best things about reading this book with my book club was discussing it with several expats, one being Nigerian. We were able to ask him questions about her descriptions of Nigeria and their ways.

Book Cover

Black women’s hair was a big point she made in the book, which is why the book cover illustrates braids. In my opinion, I believe the braid attempt on the book cover failed. At first I thought they were ropes, and then realized they symbolized black women’s braids. It looks like a child drew them.

As always, my book review will contain spoilers, so please stop here if you have not read the book and plan to read it.

 Writing

I found some great lines in the book, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

  • Quote 1
  • Quote 2
  • Quote 3
  • Quote 4
“…it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”
“…she had convinced herself that she was not living on memories mildewed by thirteen years.”
“But his mannered English bothered her as she got older, because it was costume, his shield against insecurity.”
“There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.”

Chimamanda’s writing is good. I enjoyed her style, but wasn’t awe-struck by it. There were times where she tended to become repetitive. Many chapters contain blog posts written by the main character and they all have the same type of theme, yet not all have that “Aha!” moment. The blog posts grow into lectures more than advice, opinion, or suggestions. To me, this was a turn-off.

I would also like to point out that this book is fiction, yet in some ways, it mirrors the author’s life. Chimamanda is Nigerian, born into an Igbo family in the town of Nsukka, came to America to study and work, and now splits her time between Nigeria and the U.S. She has many degrees and acclamations for her writings. She has given lectures regarding writing, cultures, and feminism.

This book would have been better written as non-fiction, because she didn’t distance herself enough from the fictional character, Ifemelu. Throughout the book, I turned to the back cover to look at her picture, and I knew it was her speaking through the main character. Like the author, Ifemelu is from Nigeria, born into an Igbo family in Nsukka, and comes to America for her studies.

Chimamanda was quoted in an interview, saying, “I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.”

The likeness of Chimamanda and Ifemelu’s life, along with the anger, is exactly what the reader will experience. I’m not a feminist, nor am I angry, so her angry writing didn’t do her justice with me. I completely disagree with her that we should all be angry. Why? The world is already angry, angry about feminism, racism, economy, government, the list goes on. There’s no need to breathe anger into people when it already exists, and in my opinion, suffocates purpose. Instead of being angry, create a love of who we are and acceptance.

Plot

When Ifemelu first arrives in America, she can’t get a job, and falls into a depression. She mentions that in Nigeria, depression doesn’t exist. If you don’t put a name on it, it isn’t there, but Americans put a name on everything. I found this quite interesting, because I didn’t realize that many countries don’t discuss or acknowledge depression.

Ifemelu begins blogging about racial issues, the blog takes off, and she starts to give lectures. Over time, she winds up making more money with her blog and lectures than any other job. While still working as a babysitter, she meets her employer’s cousin, a rich, white boy, who ultimately helps her get a green card.

  • How She Felt
  • His Beliefs
“With Curt, she became, in her mind, a woman free of knots and cares, a woman running in the rain with the taste of sun-warmed strawberries in her mouth.”
“He believed in good omens and positive thoughts and happy endings to films, a trouble-free belief, because he had not considered them deeply before choosing to believe; he just simply believed.”

She also talks and blogs about black women’s hair. How difficult it is to maintain. How black women don’t wear it natural because it’s not acceptable for job interviews, etc. She goes into detail how black women use relaxers and burn their hair straight, and those who wear it natural, afro style or braids, avoiding the harsh chemicals. This taught me how black women struggle with their hair.

There’s a part in the book where Ifemelu blogs about “Why Dark-Skinned Black Women — Both American and Non-American — Love Barack Obama”. From the post:

“But today most of the American blacks who are successful as entertainers and as public figures are light…He broke the mold! He married one of their own. He knows what the world doesn’t seem to know: that dark black women totally rock. In movies, dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.”

Ifemelu or Chimamanda, I can’t decipher who, is making a point that dark black skinned women may now be recognized as being relevant and beautiful. The Nigerian book club member clarified this when we came across the word Akata. He explained that Nigerians don’t look too kindly on African Americans. I found this video of a woman discussing the word akata – https://youtu.be/im6vo1KkVok. And here’s another video of a young lady discussing African vs. African American.

I learned something new, something I would have never known as a white woman—the differences—and find it intriguing. The way the woman in the second video approaches the subject is great and informative. And she’s not angry.

Since Chimamanda and Ifemelu are somewhat the same, I can’t help but think that the author used a fictional character to voice her views. Again, she should have written a non-fiction book about the cultural differences between America and Nigeria. Non-American Blacks vs. Black Americans.

There are also parts in the book where the author never finishes a relationship or action. She babysits for two children and has a friendship with the mother, her employer. Once she starts dating her employer’s cousin, Curt, the reader never hears about them again. Also, while she is set to leave America for Nigeria, she promises her hairdresser, who wants to stay in the U.S., that Ifemelu will contact a man the hairdresser likes and talk to him about marrying her. That is all we hear about it. The end of the so-called first love romance is hastily wrapped up on the last page.

Characters

This was the first time I liked a book, but not the main character. The main character, Ifemelu, is an angry woman, echoing Chimamanda. She dates a rich, white guy, who helps her get her green card. He makes her feel great, but she cheats on him because she is ‘curious’. Then she dates a black American, who is pompous, doesn’t treat her well, who she adores, and then she leaves him to go back to Nigeria.

The main problem I had with this character is she never grows. She remains stagnant, angry, bitter, and judgmental. There’s a part in the book where she’s talking with a “large-hipped, stylish poet from Haiti with an Afro bigger than hers” who says that for 3-years she dated a white man and race wasn’t an issue. Here’s how the rest of the dialogue goes:

“That’s a lie,” Ifemelu said to her.
“What?” the woman asked, as though she could not have heard properly.
“It’s a lie.” Ifemelu repeated.
The woman’s eyes bulged. “You’re telling me what my own experience was?”

This is a perfect example of how Ifemelu approaches everything in the book. Her opinion is the only one. When she dates the white guy, Curt, his positivity bothers her. When she dates the black American, his academia bothers her. She is forever aggravated, judgmental and lacks empathy. I can only recall once when she sympathizes with a hairdresser of hers. Other than that, Ifemelu never is appreciative of the good things she receives. She never looks inside herself regarding self-improvement.

Due to some of the book sounding more like a scolding than a story, and the main character’s lack of growth, I give this book 3.5/5 stars. I would recommend it with some warnings, but I don’t think I’ll read another book by this author again.

If interested, here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Americanah-Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie/dp/0307455920/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458584664&sr=8-1&keywords=Americanah

Racism, Cultures, and Feminism,
Bare Necessities

6 thoughts on “Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. I have heard a lot about this book because as you said, it is a bestseller. I do want to read it myself one day as well so I am looking forward to when I am going to be able to do that. I do find this one must be really deep on the reader and handle a lot of difficult subjects well, especially the one of racism. But it seems like it discusses so much more as well that a lot of other people are able to relate to as well. Brilliant review, Denise <3

  2. Thanks for such an in-depth review of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m sure I would enjoy aspects of this books as well. It’s interesting that you note she never grows. I’m not sure that would sit well with me, but I’m intrigued enough to want to put this on my reading list.

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