“Americanah” (2013) is a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, best known for “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006). It tells the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze, across two decades (1990s, 2000s) and three countries (Nigeria, US, Britain), addressing issues of race, identity, natural hair and immigration.
Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love in high school in Nigeria in the 1990s. But then Ifemelu goes to America to pursue her studies while he goes to Britain. They are separated by an ocean, the years, immigration policies – and emails too long left unanswered.
Ifemelu is in America so long she forgets how to be Nigerian, becoming the Americanah of the title.
The best part by far is when they meet again many years later back in Nigeria, at Jazzhole in Lagos. They are still in love – but Obinze has since married another woman, having lost hope of ever marrying Ifemelu, the love of his life.
Along the way we get to see Nigeria, Britain, America and Nigeria (again) through their eyes:
Nigeria is run by people who only care about getting rich and so the country is kind of broken despite (or because of) its great oil wealth. That is just like the picture the Western media paints, the Broken Africa stereotype. But the book does not leave out what the Western media almost always leaves out: middle-class Black Africa!
Britain and America: Both Ifemelu and Obinze were
“conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else.”
That somewhere else was the West, namely Britain and America, which they learn about through Western media. But when Ifemelu arrived in Manhattan she found that:
“The endless skyscrapers taunted the sky, but there was dirt on the building windows. The dazzling imperfections of it all calmed her. ‘It’s wonderful, but it’s not heaven.'”
Brooklyn, likewise, was not like in “The Cosby Show”.
They also saw what Britain and America did to Nigerian immigrants. It was not always pretty, often unfair, sometimes frightening. Even Ifemelu, who did well in America, is left with “cement in her soul”.
Race: Once they set foot in the West, they became Black. In Nigeria everyone was Black, so no one was Black.
Ifemelu believed race was “not embroidered in the fabric of her history; it had not been etched on her soul,” like it had been with Black Americans. Yet she still looked up to Whites – a neocolonized mind. She blogs about race in America, sometimes with insight, sometimes not. The book has some of her posts.
Love and marriage: Obinze and Ifemelu understand that love is not like in a novel, but do not understand that they are themselves in a novel! And so, when faced with Christian ideas about marriage, they fall back on those very ideas of love found in novels, the ones they call “silly”.
But, just as Britain and America are not like in books and film, so neither is love.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Broken Africa stereotype
- The Milahanska
- Stories listed by century
- Amy Chua – who uses the success of Nigerian Americans to push the Bootstrap Myth.