I am still not sure yet why I love Americanah. Whether it is the unpretentiousness that it carries; whether it is Chimamanda’s writing that flows so fluidly; or if it is the humor and sarcasm that is delivered so effortlessly!
Americanah tells the story of one Ifemelu. An Igbo Nigerian who goes to pursue her studies in Princeton, America after her studies in Lagos are interrupted by political uncertainties.
Leaving for America means leaving her boyfriend Obinze behind. Obinze heads to the UK later on and after communicating with each other for a while, the emails and phone calls between them dwindle off as Ifemelu struggles to fit into her new world.
It is when she lands in America that Ifemelu’s eyes are opened to the reality that is racism. It is then that she starts considering herself as being in fact black and thereby learning what it means to be black – a fact that had never manifested itself when she looked in the mirror while living in Nigeria.
It is in America that Ifemelu discovers that her race; her color, hair and even her accent sets her apart in a deeper sense than the obvious physical, from the rest of the world.
She struggles to find her identity as she realizes that “in America, you don’t get to decide what race you are, it is decided for you.” She discovers subtle changes that Africans struggle with in a bid to fit into the American world. Ifemelu discovers that America is more receptive of her when she, for example, straightens her course African hair, or acquires an American accent to boot – two things she later defiantly refuses to conform to.
Ifemelu insists on staying true to her roots and even starts a blog to showcase her struggles as a black African in America.
Americanah does not only narrate the story of a young woman’s struggle in a foreign country. It also narrates an interesting story of love; the love between Ifemelu and Obinze. Even in a far away land, even with other men coming into her life in the form of Curt and Blaine, even with communication ties cut between the two, Obinze remains an obstinate memory that refuses to be erased from Ifemelu’s mind.
The book starts when Ifemelu visits an African hairdresser in America to have her hair braided. We are taken through the struggle she has to go through to find a salon that would know what to do with her African hair – which requires her to take a train from Princeton to Trenton.
From the salon chair she sits on as her hair is braided, Americanah unfolds through Ifemelu’s flash back to when she first set foot in America thirteen years ago. We are given a glimpse of who she was then, and who she has become now.
At this point in her life, Ifemelu has just made the decision to hang up her ‘blogging’ boots by selling her blog and going back home to Nigeria – and thereby earning herself the title of ‘Americanah’. As her hair is braided, her mind wanders to her life in America and how it has affected her growth. She is also apprehensive about going back to Nigeria because it means going back to Obinze, now a married family man.
What I like about Americanah is Chimamanda’s depiction of her female protagonist in an unconventional way. She steers clear of the Cinderella-waiting-to-be-swooped-into-the-arms-of-her-knight-in-shining-armor storyline.
If you are anything like me, you will not help but fall in love with Ifemelu. She is independent to a fault. She is unapologetic about her life choices and no man – not even the love of her life Obinze – gets to define her. Ifemelu is not your typical woman who struggles to fit into the many boxes that society has created for her. Boxes simply do not exist in her life.
She is a fresh breath of air. It is therefore not surprising that even her love life is not your typical kind.
I read this book for a longer period that I should have. Granted, it is a big book – a few pages short of 500 pages – but I could have read it in a shorter period. I will just excuse myself with the fact that I read the book when my life was under transition. I was reading it in between moving back to Nairobi. I struggled to fit it into my busy, exhausting life. I in fact read the final part of the book while travelling from Eldoret to Nairobi one Sunday evening, having promised myself to finish it then, come rain or shine.
You know me and book endings by now, so this will not come as a surprise: I don’t like the way Americanah ends. You just couldn’t help rolling your eyes, now could you? Anyway…
Have you ever listened to someone speak and deliver a punch line that you really like? Now, have you ever had to listen to the said person go on and on about the same punch line to the point that it now becomes boring? Well, the ending of Americanah was dragged on and on by Chimamanda in the same annoying fashion.
I was already in love with the book, but Chimamanda did not know when to end it – which to me should have been a chapter earlier than she did.
We get that Ifemelu is not the kind of woman to sit around and mop for unforthcoming love. The point was already home and all Chimamanda needed to do is wrap it up really nicely at the perfect moment. She failed to see that moment.
I rate Americanah a 4.0 out of 5.
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