Nigerian born author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie has written a powerful, politically-charged novel in Americanah, and book groups should take note.
Americanah is the story of a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who moves to the United States to further her education and spends her years abroad analyzing and processing what it means to be a “Non-American Black.” Ifemelu starts a blog where she ponders and probes issues of identity and race, the racism African-Americans experience and what it feels for her for the first time to be constantly aware of the color of her skin. Adichie infuses Americanah with the kind of intelligent dialectics that a college course would enjoy dissecting while making these complex questions intrinsic to her compelling storytelling.
When Ifemelu leaves Nigeria for America she leaves behind her love, Obinze. The novel traces their lives apart and the deep connection that remains between them even as they navigate separate lives. Ifemelu has several relationships in America but her heart is still in Nigeria, with Obinze, and she returns partway through the book to find herself and her country again. She returns to find herself and Nigeria changed and she tentatively treads new ground.
Americanah floored me with its richness, its detail and intimacy, its sensual mastery of the inner lives of its characters and the truth-telling it reveals in not looking away from issues of identity, race and cultural assumptions and intersections. It is a stunning achievement.
Adichie deserves more attention and is sure to gain it when the film of one of her previous novels, Half of a Yellow Sun, is released. A book group also should make some time to watch Adichie’s amazing TEDTalk speech on how we all, men and women, should be feminists.
Pick up Americanah and get ready for a spirited conversation.