Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013
Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a book over 500 pages long
Premise: Ifemelu grew up in Nigeria, began attending college there, met her lover Obinze there. The desire to travel and study abroad impacts every one of her family and friends through upheaval in their country. After she decides to return home after spending years in America, she reflects on her life and how it has changed.
This is a lovely book. I don’t always like literary fiction, but this is beautifully written and I found the story deeply interesting. Much of it is told in flashback, exploring Ifemelu and Obinze’s intertwining stories. Their lives are present, tangible and real.
A lot of the book centers on culture and race. Ifemelu comes to America and immediately is assumed by many to share a specific experience/attitudes common to African-Americans. But she isn’t American, and finds ‘black American culture’ extremely confusing. Excerpts from her blog explore these ideas in more depth.
She also deals with an additional cultural tension around Africa itself. She is faced with people who have baseless assumptions about Africa and don’t understand the differences between various countries there, but she often finds herself more comfortable talking to other expatriates/immigrants, even those from other African or Caribbean countries. There’s a shared experience, but outsiders can falsely see it as an identical experience.
This is also a book about romance, although in very realistic ways. Ifemelu and her family and friends react to different and/or changing cultural mores about relationships. What importance to place on love and what on money? How impassable is the cultural divide? As an extremely intelligent young woman, Ifemelu is also brushing up against the issue of otherwise kind, loving men who are sometimes determined to show that they are smarter than she is.
It’s also about the way we change over a lifetime. As people experience different cultures and points of view, as well as just the passage of time, their experiences and expectations shift in unexpected ways. ‘Americanah’ is the slang among the young Nigerians for those who have lived abroad and returned with foreign ways. But the way Ifemelu reflects on her childhood in Nigeria isn’t the same as the way she reacts to living there as an adult, and it isn’t just because of her time abroad.
Reading Americanah is living in another culture for a while, with another set of eyes. I am grateful for the experience.
5 Stars - An Awesome Book