Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love while growing up together in Nigeria. Over the next few years, the two of them live and grow both separately and apart, moving between three different continents and experiences that change them in amazing ways.
The storytelling in this novel is, simply put, beautiful. Chimamanda writes with a level of detail that doesn’t overwhelm, as sometimes realistic fiction can. Her characters are entertaining, lively, and cynical.
I’ll admit that the love story is not my favorite part of Americanah, hopeless romantic though I am. I like Ifemelu and Obinze well enough, but their rich experiences are really what held my attention in this story.
Chimamanda’s portrayal of the immigrant experience in all of its awkwardness and determination is my favorite part of the novel. There are several scenes that stood out to me, but one is when Ifemelu first arrives in America and stays with her aunt, Uju, in Brooklyn. She’s surprised to find a tiny, cramped apartment with barely enough space for her aunt and cousin, much less a third person. Aunty Uju, meanwhile, is worn down by the stress of being a poor working immigrant in a hectic city. The falsely advertised glitter of America has long worn off for her.
Yet, Uju remains resilient and determined to advance in her career and find the peaceful life that she envisioned for herself and her son. Without a doubt, Uju is one of the more dynamic characters in this novel and represents the working class immigrant mother in a way that resonated with me immediately. She is far from perfect, and that’s what makes her so real.
There’s also the crippling fear and anxiety that both Ifemelu and Obinze have to wade through as undocumented people in foreign countries. Especially in the volatile and saddening political climate that is 2017, these are concepts that we need to be reading about, listening to, discussing, and seeking solutions to.
“She might worry about money, about a place to stay, about safety, perhaps even about visas, but never with an anxiety that wrenched at her spine.”
From love to politics to self-confidence to immigration, Americanah tackles a wide range of complex and heavy subjects and I love that Chimamanda managed to achieve that while still including lighthearted, amusing, and joyful moments throughout.
I highly recommend this book, and I’ll surely be reading it several more times in the next few years.