“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a brilliant, insightful but bleakly funny novel about race and love, centered around a young man and woman, Obinze and Ifemelu, both from Lagos, Nigeria.
The author writes of her version of Western society, seen through African eyes. The story is about the challenging choices they face in the countries they call home. Using the form of extended flashbacks to her childhood in Nigeria and her experiences in the U.S for much of the novel. This technique works for this,the most political of her novels.
Ifemelu and Obinze first fall in love in secondary school but the Nigerian government is under military dictatorship and people are fleeing. Ifemelu leaves for America to study. Obinze, a quiet young man and son of a professor, has hopes to join her. But following 9/11 he is not allowed into the country and moves to London, leading an undocumented life under an assumed name.
Time passes. Thirteen years later Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria. Ifemelu finds succes as a writer of a blog about race in America. She names the blog: Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. Ifemelu’s blog resonates in America but she longs for Nigeria. She eventually returns to her native country to find that it has changed while she was gone. Or that she has changed.
Throughout the novel the reader is drawn into the story as Ifemelu tries to find her way in the world. She has come from a country where race was not an issue. In America, she discovers race is a huge issue, but it is difficult to talk about. Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and she and Obinze reignite their feelings for each another – and for Nigeria. They, must however, face the most challenging decisions of their lives.
“Americanah” is an intriguing novel about being black in the 21st century in America, Great Britain and Africa. Its main character, Ifemelu, sometimes seems more like an observer and not a character in the story. The long list of characters and numerous events are a means to present issues the author examines. The racial indignities Ifemelu encounters as a college-educated (Princeton) African immigrant in the U.S. make for a very readable novel.