Americanah

Americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Summary

Ifemelu is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who leaves her native land of Nigeria to  attend university in America. Obinze is a kind-hearted and observant man who departs for London to begin a new life abroad. The two met in high school and quickly fell deeply in love, but are forced to part ways when their new lives take over. However, as time passes, neither has forgotten the other.

Ifemelu faces challenges adapting to American culture and struggles with the meaning of race and identity. As she chronicles her new life, she wonders about Obinze’s life and whether or not she made a mistake when cutting him off. Will they ever meet again? Will everything be the same, or will their relationship be completely changed after their time abroad?

Americanah explores both Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s journeys as as life abroad brings its waves of struggles and triumphs.


Memorable Quotes

“People were flattered to be asked about themselves and if she said nothing after they spoke, it made them say more. They were conditioned to fill silences,” (page 4).

“He [Blaine] taught ideas of nuance and complexity in his classes and yet he was asking her for a single reason, the cause. But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her,” (page 8).

“Other girls would have pretended that they had never let another boy touch them, but not her, never her. There was a vivid honesty about her,” (page 24).

“She kicked him under the table and he kicked her back, watching his laughing friends; they were all a little afraid of her and a little in love with her,” (page 25).

“He felt, looking out at the muggy darkness farther way, as if he could float, and all he needed to do was to let himself go,” (page 44).

“Her mother told them of a vision she had just had, a blazing apperance near the gas cooker of an angel holding a book trimmed in red thread, telling her to leave Revival Saints because the pastor was a wizard who attended nightly  demonic meetings under the sea.”

‘You should listen to the angel,’ her father said,” (page 52).

“It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her. They had none nothing of each other only hours ago, and yet, there had been a knowledge shared between them in those moments before they danced, and now she could think only of al the things she wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him,” (page 73).


Thoughts

This is a ground-breaking book about something not so ground-breaking in itself because Americanah exudes the aura of what it truly means to live. Adichie masterfully creates a convincing reality where life is not glorified and blown up to giant metaphors, but instead it is simply lived. A person’s situation and thoughts do not change in a day, and Americanah boldly demonstrates this slow-moving evolution. 

Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon it completely by accident and decided to read only because I had previously watched one of Chimamanda’s TedTalks for class. And wow, I am so glad I bought it.

As I have previously alluded, this is a book that I would (almost lamely) describe as “real.” Not real in the sense that the entirety of the book is one depressing look at life, but real as in a no bullshit approach in showing how the environment we grow up in influences the way we see ourselves and the world around us. It is beautifully colorful and descriptive, and sometimes lackluster and dull. This novel lives and breathes reality in every way possible. 

In life there is happiness, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, and overall confusion. There are moments of grandeur where the world seems to exist in vibrant technicolor, and there are moments when it dulls to a hollow black and white. Americanah is a book that not only points this out directly, but also thematically.

The main character, Ifemelu is a blunt and witty woman whose thoughts shift and expand as the world around her changes. From her homeland of Nigeria to the disorienting streets of America, Ifemelu guides the reader through different periods in her life. The beginning of the book takes place in the most recent part of Ifemelu’s life when she is living in America and planning to return home to Nigeria. Then the story jumps back to Ifem’s high school life in Nigeria, filling in missing details about her friends and family.

Throughout the novel the time constantly shifts back and forth between present time and the past, creating an interesting, but logical, storyline. In addition, the perspective switches from Ifemelu to Obinze, therefore consistently refreshing the plot.

The novel addresses themes such as race, displacement, first love, expectations, sex, adulthood, and the ways in which people confront life.

From the way it is arranged to the themes it brings forward, Americanah is a pleasure from beginning to end. I enjoyed this book because it reminds me that identity is not always who you really are because it is subjective to environment. When coming to America, Ifemelu goes from identifying as simply Nigerian, to becoming “African American.” 

Definitely a must-read for the occupational (or self-proclaimed) philosopher and any general person facing the daily woes of the human condition head-on.

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