Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Wow. Where do I even begin?

I had huge HUGE HUGE expectations for this book. Chimamanda is someone who I have loosely closely followed (is that even a thing?) for a while now. Her truly inspirational Ted Talk entitled: “We Should all be Feminists” gave me the confidence to shake off the haters and stand up in front of hundreds of people and tell them that I, Sophie Blunt am a feminist. A small section of this talk was also featured on Beyoncé’s song Flawless. Chimamanda defines feminism in a way that makes self-conscious teenage girls sit up and rethink their (mostly) anti-feminist thoughts. Also the fact that Beyoncé champions the talk too helps a lot when dealing with young women!

Feminist: the person who believes in the social political, and economic equality of the sexes

I’m not going to sit here and write a full-blown review of it all. If I did I would be here all day and as I am now back at work I afraid I just don’t have the time! Instead i’m going to take you by the hand and we will both skip through this beautiful winter sunshine and look at some of my favourite observations from the novel!

americanah

So: Americanah. I was a little worried that it was going to be full of complex ideas written in a way that alienates the reader. I’m not sure why I felt that way but I could not have been more wrong. The books beauty is it’s simplicity. The way that it deals with people. People and their thoughts and their feelings on topics such as race, identity, nationality, love and power. All of which interest me hugely.

The narrative flicks between Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who has made the move to America, and  her childhood sweetheart Obinze who dreams of moving to America. The relationship between the two changes throughout their journey in the book but it is this relationship that, in my opinion, holds the whole novel together. Everybody, well almost everybody I hope, knows what it feels like to be consumed by love. To have it take up all your thoughts and for it to invade every aspect of your life. Those that we love may leave us but the imprint that they make on our hearts and on our minds is there forever. It will not budge. Ifemelu and Obinze’s love does not budge and even though they are both in different parts of the world: geographically and culturally, this love that bonds the pair doesn’t seem to ever leave even when they might think that it has.

Once Ifemelu has moved to America she begins to write a blog:  Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) by a Non- American Black and these blog posts are beautifully woven into the main body of the text. Ifemelu creates a blog so  she can voice both her opinions and observations on race in the USA  and these were some of my favourite parts of Americanah. Written is such a laid back, casual voice but one that still resonates many truths of race and identity, something that I have never been asked to think about in quite this way by a book before. Ifemelu goes from a broke, depressed and alienated young woman to a fellow at Princeton. However, she is not quite at one with her life in America and a build-up of “amorphous longings, shapeless desires” has led her to the decision to return back to Nigeria.

Obinze, a lesser partner in the narrative, has long been obsessed with America and the freedom that it could one day bring him. However, his experience of emigration has been far less successful. Unable to gain a visa to America as a black African man with no prospects post 9/11 he did make his way to London under a false name. He pays a huge sum of money for an arranged marriage, which gets him  arrested and sent back to Nigeria. On his return Obinze finds the freedom and power that he once thought only America could give him in his home land. Although his marriage to a women he likes but does not truly love can not bring him the full happiness he craves. Can we only ever have one or the other?

On Ifemelu’s return the two reconnect….and I won’t ruin the ending for you!

This is the first book of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s that I have read. It was thoughtful and provocative exploration of structural inequality, of different kinds of oppression, of gender roles and of the idea of home.

I urge anyone who has an interest in any of these ideas to pick up this book and devour it before it turns into a movie!

We all wish race was not an issue, but it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue, I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”

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