Americanah charts the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze from age sixteen to their mid-thirties. However, this is so much more than your run of the mill love story.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction
Page count: 477
The book opens in the US as thirty something Ifemelu prepares to move back to Nigeria after spending over a decade in the US. She goes to get her hair braided and as she sits in the salon she starts to reminisce about Obinze, their relationship, her decision to leave for the US and how they have drifted apart.
After meeting at a party Obinze and Ifemelu become inseparable. We watch their relationship develop through their school and university years but their romance is complicated by the constant strikes and corruption. Unable to study due to the disruption Ifemelu decides to move to America to make a new life for herself. After 9/11 and the tightening restrictions on immigration Obinze finds himself unable to join Ifemelu and has to resort to living undocumented in London.
Although at the heart of the book is a love story there is so much more to unpack here. A large focus of the book is an exploration and critique of immigration policies. With Ifemelu in American and Obinze in the UK Adichie provides a comparison of what it is like to be a migrant in both Britain and the US and highlights the desperate measures people have to go through to get their papers. Eye-opening but also frustrating as you watch the character that you feel so deeply for become trapped by bureaucracy and harsh policies policed by unfeeling governments. Additionally, within Ifemelu’s sections Adichie also explores the complex relationship between the African Blacks and African Americans who often do not see eye to eye on issues pertaining to race and class.
The narrative is told in continuous flashbacks interspersed with snippets of what is going on in the salon. In addition to hearing from Ifemelu, we also get to hear directly from Obinze who fills in the gaps in Ifemelu’s narrative. Despite this jumping around and flicking between perspectives, the book is really easy to follow and I found myself really easily getting sucked into the story. It is a slow burn this one and is very character focused. I have read Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck and within both of these books Adichie’s writing really is phenomenal. She creates such well-rounded characters and vivid descriptions, you feel like you are in the book. Americanah is no different and even though I have read her work in the past I was still blown away by her writing.
I do have one little criticism. There were some sentiments expressed at the beginning of the novel that read like the “shes not like other girls” trope and this wasn’t really dealt with. As Adichie is a high profile feminist activist I was quite surprised that this was even included.
Overall, I gave this 4.5 stars. I love Adichie’s writing SO much it is quite painful that I only have one of her novels left to read!