Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Rating: 5 STARS
Fiction | 589 Pages | Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Mini Review: A modern literary marvel that speaks unabashedly about race and gender. One of the finest works of this decade.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is quickly becoming one of the most formidable literary forces in the English-speaking world. Her most recent novel, “Americanah,” offers an impressively ambitious scope that covers several subjects and covers them expertly. It is a novel about what it means to be black, about immigration, dislocation, and isolation, a social satire on contemporary American life, a love story and so much more.
The narrative transports us through multiple generations of Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s lives in Nigeria and abroad while slowly immersing us in their complicated and fascinating lives. Ifemelu is perceptive, beautiful, strong, fragile, ambitious, flippant, somber, austere, fiery, passionate, feminine, deceitful, sensual, intelligent, playful and kind. Obinze is equally contradictory yet human. Their love story spans generations and by book’s end was simultaneously underwhelming, yet realistic and spiritually satisfying because they are as close as two people can be to the nebulous concept of “soul mates.”
“Americanah” opens with Ifemelu in Princeton, New Jersey markedly unhappy with the fact that she must travel to a different town to braid her hair. When we meet her, she has already lived in America for thirteen years and has created a good life for herself, after a painfully disappointing start. Her finest accomplishment is her unusually-titled blog, “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” Throughout the novel, we get thrilling glimpses into this blog that has made Ifemelu a minor celebrity. What she writes are ruthlessly honest remarks about what it means to be black in the 21st century.
Here’s an excerpt of the blog post, “Traveling While Black.”
A friend of a friend, a cool AB (American Black) with tons of money, is writing a book called Traveling While Black. Not just black, he says, but recognizably black because there’s all kids of black and no offense but he doesn’t mean those black folk who look Puerto Rican or Brazilian or whatever, he means recognizably black. Because the world treats you differently…They tell you in the guidebooks what to expect if you’re gay or if you’re a woman. Hell, they need to do it for if you’re recognizably black. Let traveling black folk know what the deal is.
Many of these posts are controversial, but poignant, insightful, and excellent for real-world group discussions. I found the blog posts to be highlights of the novel due to their relevant proclamation for the need to be unapologetically black in a society that continues to balk at bold displays of such an identity. (Shall we discuss the conservative response to Beyonce’s Superbowl performance? Perhaps another time…)
It’s a challenge to accurately capture the scope and complexity of this novel, but don’t let my failure to do so discourage you from reading “Americanah.” Rest assured, this is a near-flawless novel that speaks truths about which others choose to remain silent. If you have never read a story that is fearless in its approach to issues of race in America and Africa, you will learn immensely as I have. Adichie has undeniably crafted an instant classic that will be studied in college classrooms, and will remain relevant, for generations to come.