Thursday, 11 July 2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favourite authors.  In fact, I love her so much that I bought the hardback edition of Americanah, despite already having an electronic review copy.  That's love people; I never normally do that.  I was almost scared to start reading this book as I like her other titles so much I was worried this one wouldn't live up to my expectations.  I shouldn't have worried; whilst it wasn't quite up there with Half of a Yellow Sun, it was still an exceptionally good book.

Ifemelu and Obinze met at secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria, and fell in love.  But the political situation in Nigeria under a military dictatorship meant that the only viable option for young people was to get out if you could.  Ifemelu manages to get a visa to study in America and despite her best intentions, the experience changes her and pushes her away from Obinze.  America is far from a land paved with gold and Ifemelu's experience as a new migrant is a tough one, full of struggle.  Meanwhile, Obinze eventually makes it to the UK but faces a battle to stay there.  When they are finally reunited in Nigeria years later, their experiences have changed them forever.

Americanah is one of the best books I have ever read on the migrant experience.  Ifemelu is a remarkably perceptive character and through her, Adichie is able to articulate the subtle prejudices faced by immigrants in Western society.  Ifemelu comments that she never felt black until she reached America, that she was surprised at the approach to education, that relaxing her hair could have an impact on whether or not she was given a job.  I loved that Adichie included Ifemelu's blog posts on the subject of race, they were fascinating to read.  The culture clash issue that most interested me was around mental health; Ifemelu becomes very depressed at one stage in the novel and she refuses to accept it because the Nigerian attitude is very different to the American one.  Of course, she can't tell any of her relatives back home as they would just tell her that she is lucky to be in the US at all.

Compared to Ifemelu, Obinze gets very little page time.  This was a bit of a shame, as I enjoyed reading about his experiences in the UK and his attempts to arrange a sham marriage in order to stay. However, Ifemelu's voice was the more authentic one, it almost seemed as though it drew on the author's own experiences.  Ifemelu comes across as both intelligent and sympathetic, and is a very relatable main character.

If you can't tell yet, I adored this book despite it being a 450+ page beast of a thing.  However, I did feel that it lacked the raw emotion of Purple Hibiscus or Half of a Yellow Sun.  It felt like Adichie's best written and most perceptive book, but I didn't connect with the central love story in the way I connected with Kambili's coming of age in Purple Hibiscus.  It still comes highly recommended - get yourself to a bookshop and grab a copy!

Source: Personal copy & review copy from Netgalley
First Published: 2013
Score: 4.5 out of 5 

26 comments:

  1. I've seen this book around but I didn't realize the migrant experience was a part of it. I lived in North Carolina for a few years, and that was the first place I'd ever met migrant workers or even realized it's such a big thing here in America (still). Thanks for a great review, Sam!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I teach in inner London and a lot of my class is made up of the children of African or Eastern European immigrants, it was one of the many reasons why I was excited to pick up Americanah.

      Delete
  2. I've heard so many great things about this one, but I loved your review of it - makes me realize I need to read it. I think its terrific that she chose to write about the migrant experience, as its one that needs to be vocalized more often than it already rarely is. Great post!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everyone needs to read it :)
      I'm always looking out for good books on the migrant experience, I loved Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.

      Delete
  3. Oooh this seems really interesting, especially as I'm currently working as a counselor/mentor for African immigrant and refugee girls! I've been wanting to read something by Adichie since I've heard so many good things about her, though I'll probably wait until this one is out in paperback. It sounds fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your job sounds fascinating. I teach in inner London, so I spenda lot of time with immigrant families. If you are new to Adichie, I reckon Purple Hibiscus is the best place to start. It's a coming of age story.

      Delete
  4. I totally agree with you about this. I love her writing and her insights--they're just about second to none. But while I admired a LOT about this book, I felt it lacked the substance of her previous novels. That being said, even an Adichie book that is mildly disappointing in the end is a helluva lot better than most novels being published!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad someone else had a similar experience. But as you say, a slightly disappointing Adichie is still miles ahead of most of the other books!

      Delete
  5. I'm just starting Half of a Yellow Sun and it is indeed very good. I also have Purple Hibiscus on my TBR shelf and will be adding Americanah as well. Isn't it so wonderful to discover new authors?! I totally get needing multiple copies in various formats ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you are enjoying Adichie, Trish :)

      Delete
  6. This was a wonderful review, and though I was interested before now I really feel like I want to read it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This sounds wonderful! I still have Half a Yellow Sun in my tbr pile.... sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should make the time for it, it is so worth it. Hope you manage to get to it soon :)

      Delete
  8. Gosh, I really need to read Adichie! I will first read Half a Yellow Sun, as you say that one is even better than Americanah. Though maybe I should start with this one and then go up even higher from there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Half of a Yellow Sun is amazing, I started with that and then read Purple Hibiscus. In fact, I'd be tempted to say that Purple Hibiscus is a better introduction to her work.

      Delete
  9. I did think Adichie was phoning it in a little bit in the Obinze chapters. I loved the parts where Obinze and Ifemelu were first falling in love -- I thought those bits conveyed Obinze's character a lot better than the sections of the book where he was married etc.

    BUT I really loved the book overall, even more than I was expecting to. I'm reading Half of a Yellow Sun for book club later this summer -- I'm sad there won't be much more Adichie for me to read after that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree that the falling in love chapters were better for Obinze, I loved that he didn't seem bothered by normal gender stereotypes.
      Have you read The Thing Around Your Neck too?

      Delete
  10. Weirdly I find this book quite intimidating. I'm not sure what it is. I do very much want to read it though, particularly after such a glowing review. Maybe I will start with one of her others (they have been on the wishlist for SO long) and then move on to this one?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's probably the length - if I didn't already love her, the length and the literary reputation of this book would have scard me!
      I reckon start with Purple Hibiscus, it's much shorter and it's an amazing coming of age story.

      Delete
  11. I love books on the immigrant experience and have been meaning to read Adichie for so long. My husband immigrated to the States when he was 3 and learning about his family's experiences going from Taiwan to the US has been so interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love reading about the immigrant experience too, have you read Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok?
      I bet your husband's family have some interesting stories to tell.

      Delete
  12. I haven't read much of her other work (only The Thing Around Your Neck) but I absolutely loved this one. It hit close to home, I've had lots of experience with race in America that were very difficult to understand as non-Americans (and that's just on vacation, I can't imagine what it's like to move there.) I think she captured it all brilliantly.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This sounds like an excellent read Sam. I'm another one who still has Half of a Yellow Sun on my to be read pile since I don't know how long.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I loved this book as well -- and I totally relate to buying a hard copy even after receiving an e-ARC!

    ReplyDelete
  15. A fine review, Sam. I read all Adichie's books except Americanah. Funny, it's not even in my country (Ghana) yet. And the raves is keeping me in great suspense. A friend has just left for the UK and I hope she gets a cope for me.

    ReplyDelete