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