Last year I asked my best friends to share their favourites books of 2020 – see here the post. Americanah was one of the stories mentioned, one of the stories that I really wanted to read and see for myself why it was chosen as favourite. Well, it seems like Americanah might also make it to my 2021 favourites list 🙂
Americanah in a nutshell
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a bright young girl from Nigeria who emigrates to the USA in search a better life. But once she gets there, her life is anything but better … Apart from her loved ones, Ifemelu feels for the first time what it means to be discriminated based on your skin colour and tries to adapt to a culture that is so different than the Nigerian one.
At the same time, we are also told the story of Obinze, her high school boyfriend from Nigeria. Fueled by the same desire of a better life, Obinze tries his luck and emigrates in another country, coming back to Nigeria soon after that. Because of the contrasting cultural and economic contexts of Nigeria and the USA, their adulthood paths unfold so very differently.
By the way, “Americanah” is a term used in Nigeria to refer to people who pretend to be Americanized or have been Americanized (Adichie, 2014).
I enjoyed so much reading Americanah! I must admit that the first pages did not captivate me and I was a bit skeptical whether I would like the story. But once I got immersed in Ifemelu’s life … there was no way back!
Americanah is a rich and witty story, a “tapestry of Nigerian and American life” (Dave Eggers). I was charmed by the strong spirited Ifemelu and her observations on the world around her. I was saddened by the unfair experiences she’s been through. I was amused by the funny remarks sprinkled throughout the story.
Americanah as a modern classic
Americanah is seen as a modern classic, and I fully support it! Why? Because it goes beyond the story of the main characters and illustrates the broader topics of race and identity of Black people living in non-Black countries.
Americanah is a book of contrasts. It depicts the good and the bad, the weird and the wonderful, the clash between cultural principles and the compromises made. It illustrates how history repeats itself, but also how vicious circles can be broken.
About being Black
In Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie integrated so many challenges of being Black in the USA, challenges that might not be obvious for people who are not going through that situation. From this point of view I find Americanah an educative story, bringing to the surface the realities of Black people who live in non-African countries.
For example, there is the topic of hair care – how the African hair is so different than the hair of white people that it needs other products, other manners of styling it. How the natural hair of Black women is seen as unprofessional, how Black women apply relaxing treatments for their hair so that it is “tamed” (and also extremely burnt) when they go to an interview.
To sum up, Americanah is a beautiful and immersive story about immigration and identity, a story of cultural contrasts of Nigeria and America, and a very educative read! Needless to say, I recommend reading Americanah with all my heart!
Now that I joined the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fan club, I am eager to read her other books, for example Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. Did you read any books by Adichie? Please let me know, I’d love to hear from you!
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: my edition is part of the Collins Modern Classics series, “featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience”. These covers look fancy, don’t they?
I only read 2 stories included in this collection – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.