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Chimamanda Ngozi Achiche's Americanah: Book Review

Originally uploaded: 18th October 2018

To be very honest I never really thought I would write a blog post about a book, probably because book reviews remind me of middle aged white men enthusiastically using polysyllabic adjectives to praise or criticise classical books that only ever applied to other middle aged white men. However, while reading Americanah I felt, with every page I turned, a sigh of relief; finally a book that I could actually relate to on a literal level rather than metaphorical. Can I just say I merely picked up the book because I wanted to read literature that felt more grown up, to replace my teen fantasy novels for something that people could say ‘wow now that’s a serious black literature student!’ But Americanah, for me - as a proud 2nd generation African immigrant – answered many questions but also proposed many more wrapped up neatly in the gift of a great novel.

Americanah, a novel written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, is about a young ambitious Nigerian couple. As time and life goes on they move apart with Ifemelu moving to the States and Obinze moving to the UK. The novel talks about what it means to be an immigrant in countries that are undeniably wrapped up in an aroma of xenophobia and racism. The novel dismantles the stereotypical and two dimensional immigrant and adds depth. However, I felt dissatisfied with the ending, it just felt a bit rushed; I know at the centre of the story, its core, is a romance but really for me it was about two sole individuals.

Americanah, I believe, perfectly explains the perception of the black American experience observed from an African perspective. Ifemelu’s relationship with Blaine shows the bittersweet relationship between Africans and black Americans; the way we relate with each other yet are still so distant. Adiche proposes that Africans in America have more say over race than black Americans. Racism in America is very different in comparison to other places but it’s hard for a non- American black, like Ifemelu, to comprehend the idea of being put up against someone who looks exactly like you. Ultimately, Ifemelu’s experience of being African in America shows that, although it is difficult, being African in America carries some privilege and unless you’re black American you can never truly understand their experience.

I really enjoyed reading the parts about Dike and wished there was more about him because I related to his identity crisis. Adiche uses Dike’s character to explore the idea of choosing one’s own cultural identity. He is a 2nd generation immigrant, his family is rooted in their native cultural identity and disregard American culture. Thus he is too Nigerian to be American but too American to be Nigerian. His mother dismisses this assimilation with black Americans but doesn’t affirm his Nigerian identity or give him the option to be both. It’s interesting to see how Adiche uses small, almost unnoticeable things to act as catalysts in the sequence of events that occur in Dike’s storyline. I really wish that Adiche would have allowed the reader to dive deeper into his mind rather than experience it from Ifemelu’s perspective. However, I admire Ifemelu’s reaction and sympathy towards Dike and his experience of being an immigrant. 

In summary I would recommend this book to everyone; it’s a worthy read that is in depth and compelling but is also funny. I would recommend this book for those who want to expand their literary horizon. I would recommend this book for people who have convinced themselves that race doesn’t matter and consciously label themselves as colour blind. I would recommend this book to immigrants to hear a voice that could match theirs or at least for them to find some sort of solace in Adichie’s words. But most of all I would recommend this book to the kids who are like Dike and I, children of immigrants. These are people that need to read her words the most because the characters could so easily be interchangeable with our own parents. It proposes questions that we need to ask our parents and answers those subconscious ones that nagged at us for so long and made us secretly dismiss our parents.  

This book made me understand my privilege not merely as a 2nd generation immigrant but also as an African while travelling in America. This book made me appreciate my parents more and helped me to see how hard it was to uproot their lives and move to a country where they were a minority. This book helped me to understand, question and ultimately confirm my own decision in my cultural identity. I’m not saying that this book will make you feel the same way but it will definitely – if you are open to it – change the way you see the world.

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