Book Review: Americanah

Holy smokes. This is a book and a half that has been gracing my earbuds for quite a while, and I finished it at last. Yes, earbuds – I know those are actually a real physical thing, but I meant it more like tastebuds, but for your ears. I bought this on Audible with the knowledge that I’ve read one book by the author before, but I know she’s a badass, and I should read more of her work (not least because she is a woman of colour to dilute my generally otherwise too dead-white-guy booklist; working on it intentionally, friends).

My audiobook had the square version of this cover, which I prefer to the grey-ish cover I’ve also seen.

Non-spoilery synopsis

This novel tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the USA and deals with life that’s different to her expectations. Obinze, the real love of her life her high-school boyfriend has a different journey ahead of him, when he moves to the UK but gets deported for working with someone else’s NI number. Told through various flashbacks to life growing up in Nigeria, to their separate difficulties in their new homes, and back to Nigeria again, it’s got some great moments and characterisations of life between two places, about identity.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Honestly, I feel like Adichie is something of a magical dream girl of African writing. She is probably one of the best-known African authors currently living and writing, and has won a McArthur Fellowship. Her books include Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, a short story collection called The Thing Around Your Neck, and two of the best TED talks ever, one called We should all be Feminists and one on The Danger of the Single Story, which should be compulsory reading/watching for all first year literature and film students, for all aspiring authors, and certainly for anyone who wants to get into mission work in Africaaaaaaahhhh (such a vibrant place, you know, such beautiful people). These lectures she’s given are clearly important themes for her, because they come through in spades in both of the books I’ve read, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

Digging into themes

One of the big-ticket themes through Americanah is race and identity. Ifemelu writes a social commentary blog on race, particularly blackness, in America as a non-American Black. These blog interludes scattered through the more narrative sections are one of my favourite elements of the book – probably one of the more LitFic-y elements, but I’ll forgive it for that. Reading reviews on Goodreads, it seemed like some people really did not like the blog bits – maybe finding them a tad preachy, but listening to the book meant they felt like a different texture and broke up the challenging patches with an excellent wry, dry observations that really come across a bit more autobiographically observed than the main plot.

I kept having to stop the audiobook and look into the middle distance. The issues of race in America, in this book published in 2013, well. Yoh. I had to stop listening, rewind and relisten, then look into the middle distance again, because while our global awareness of race may be slightly better (especially after last year’s Black Lives Matter bringing experiences to the fore), depressingly little seems to have changed. It seems very naïve in hindsight, and definitely a mark of becoming more aware of my privilege that I was so unaware of the issues in the book and in the world at the time. I suppose I must keep reading and listening and learning.

Worth it?

It’s a great read. It’s a great listen, with Anjoa Andoh who differentiates between various Nigerian voices in different settings and levels of Americanah– or Nigeria-influenced accents. I found it gripping, and loved the blogs and narratives woven over different times, with rich settings and characterisations. Adichie is really good at writing the loneliness of being a new immigrant in a strange country that is a bit different to your expectations of that country. Really good. That, along with Ifemelu’s depression and disconnect from her parents made reading those passages really tough while I was feeling a bit far removed from my parents, and reflecting on my first eighteen months of being in the UK, which was a bit tough (we barely found our feet before Covid hit, so it still feels like I don’t know my home town well enough even now, but like, don’t worry about me, I’m so much happier now than I was for our first six months here, and now that spring is springing outside).

So – yes! Read it! Or listen! Hope you think it’s as wallopingly thought-provoking as I did.

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