Every time I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels, I savour and wanted it not to end. There is something about how she writes. She writes honestly, blatantly, without frills, without fear. With enough satire to keep me on my toes.
I have read everything Adichie’s has written, except The Purple Hibiscus. Yes, I am biased. I am biased because Adichie brought me along into her world, her culture, of which I have no affinity to begin with and found myself become a witness of the characters’ journey around the globe and through different phases of their lives.
Americanah speaks of a pair of ill fated couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, who are deeply in love in secondary school and through a chain of events, separated in different continents.
Ifemelu beautiful, self-assured departs for America to study. The many love relationships that she had was intimately lived and examined. The self saboteur of love can relate to Ifemelu’s tendency to destroy a fulfilling love relationship. The problem is not with the men who loves her, the problem is with Ifemelu. Obinze, the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. His story becomes closer to home for me. Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race relation in America, writing a series of inflammatory, controversial piece of opinions on race which are cringe-worthy. To make you cringe further, excerpts of the blog post are included in this novel. Dark, funny and uncomfortable, it makes a compelling reading experience.
Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t “black” in your country? You’re in America now.
The other characters were just as endearing. There is a single mother Aunt Uju and cousin Dike. Curt the first boyfriend, Blaine the uptight, righteous second boyfriend. Adichie’s observation of the American, English and Nigerian cultures and quirkiness with social acuity and empathy, against a rich tapestry of cultural and political backdrop. 9/11, Obama’s ascent to Presidency etc. Every sentence seems to breathe truth to me, every other passage sounded like something I could have said them myself. Here are some of my favourite passages (no, they are not about race):
“I am a bit surprised by how personally I am taking this. Good luck as you pursue the unnamed “life change” but please come back to the blogoshere soon. You’ve used your irreverent, hectoring, funny and thought-provoking voice to create a space for real conversations about an important subject.” – comments by one of Ifemelu’s blog commentator.
She looked at photographs of these men and women and felt the dull ache of loss, as though they had prised open her hand and taken something of hers. They were living her life. Nigeria became where she was supposed to be, the only place she could sink her roots in without the constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil.
To be a child of the Third World is to be aware of the many different constituencies you have and how honesty and truth must always depend on context.
Each memory stunned her with is blinding luminosity. Each brought with it a sense of unassailable loss, a great burden hurtling towards her, and she wished she could duck, lower herself so that it would bypass her, so that she would save herself. love was a kind of grief. this was what the novelists meant by suffering. She had often thought a little silly, the idea of suffering for love,but now she understood.
This book feels so personal and intimate that it felt autobiographical. Will Ifemelu and Obinze get back together again? It was the question that made me turn the pages more quickly.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the National Critics Book Prize with this book and it is also longlisted in the Bailey’s Women Prize for fiction. Her earlier novels are interesting and engaging but with this novel it felt like she has drawn from something deep and emotional that for the ones who read the novel, the experience was epic and privileged. There are slow sections and I don’t necessarily agree with the ending but it didn’t ruin the reading journey.
I want to see this novel in the Bailey’s Women’s Prize shortlist.
Own Kindle copy. [Fourth Estate 2013], [400 pages], Contemporary Nigeria, America, London. Finished reading at 28th February 2014, Friday.