Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ironically I always have my guard up when it comes to books which have rave reviews or those that have been nominated for various awards. I tend to find they can often be very indulgent and pompous but I wanted to give Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a chance. And boy am I glad I did. This is up there with one of the best novels I have ever read.
Americanah follows the lives of two Nigerian lovers as they seek to improve their lives by travelling to the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze dream of a better life, intelligent and academic, they strive to attend the western world’s top universities and reach their goals and escape the rule of a military run Nigeria.
Ifemelu’s auntie moves to the US which acts as a great stepping stone for Ifemelu to travel there. Once there she hopes that Obinze will follow her but things inevitably aren’t straightforward. Ifemelu uses a friend’s work visa to try and find a job but still struggles to find work. She soon sinks into a deep depression as she cannot even find a job as a waitress and here for the first time she realises that her race is the problem. Meanwhile Obinze is refused a visa into the US and the young lover’s relationship begins to fall apart as Ifemelu finds it easier to cut contact with anything which reminds her of home. Obinze sends her numerous emails over several months but she changes her email address and her phone number but you can’t help thinking that somehow this pair will end up together.
Obinze also encounters racism when he lives in the UK on a friend’s passport. He finds himself cleaning toilets and living on friends’ floors. He even tries to arrange a sham marriage to legally stay in the UK but moments before the ceremony is about to be conducted he is deported back to Nigeria
Meanwhile Ifemelu eventually begins to flourish in the US; she has several boyfriends, a good job and begins a high-profile blog on her race. She has a wide circle of friends but America’s views on race begin to affect her and how she looks at her herself. After many years she returns back to her native Nigeria where she finally meets up with Obinze.
I relished this book. Yes it’s a big read and it took me nearly two weeks to finish but part of me thinks I wanted to read it for as long as possible. I love a narrative which charts a character’s development and offers the viewpoints of two different characters. At the heart of the book is a wonderfully real relationship but it’s the race debate which affected me the most. Still in the twenty-first century race is a huge deal in the western world when really it shouldn’t be. This is definitely a book which will stay with you and won’t let you go.