I first picked up Americanah at the recommendation of a friend. I wasn’t familiar with the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, or any of her previous work, and I dove in without knowing quite what to expect.
What I found was a poignant, incredibly candid novel about race, love, and the sense of isolation one feels not just when arriving in a new place, but also when returning home. It’s funny and biting and sometimes dark, but always completely genuine.
Ifemelu remains both empowered and powerful, unrepentant about the space she occupies in the world.
Americanah follows Ifemelu, a smart and stubborn Nigerian woman who immigrates to the US on a student visa.
Ifemelu’s character is, in my opinion, the absolute best part of this book; in all my years of novel reading, I’ve never met a character quite like her. She isn’t particularly loud, outgoing, fearless, or even kind, and yet she remains both empowered and powerful, unrepentant about the space she occupies in the world.
Ifemelu is unfailingly frank, describing society as she sees it with a blunt honesty that sometimes makes her unlikable. Still, you trust her even when you do not like her, her observations cutting and heartbreakingly authentic.
A good portion of the book plays out in a series of flashbacks that detail the life Ifemelu attempts to build for herself, first in Nigeria with her teenage sweetheart Obinze, and then by herself on American soil. Some such moments are heartwarming and prosperous, others miserable and humiliating, but all come complete with insightful, sometimes uncomfortable perspectives on American life and the way race plays its part in the human experience.
She’s able to point out where society falls short without sneering or condescension.
Ifemelu’s unapologetic voice is perfectly suited to address these sensitive topics. She’s able to point out where society falls short without sneering or condescension. “You say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not,” Ifemelu explains at a Manhattan dinner party, just after Obama became the presidential candidate.
“But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue. I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”
Americanah is by far the most important book I’ve read this year. It breaks down stereotypes and challenges social norms with a gorgeously fearless literary voice that had me hungrily turning page after page.
Add it to your reading list this summer. You won’t regret it.