01 June 2014

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Several months ago I was browsing at a local independent bookstore with Frances (Nonsuch Book) when I decided I needed to inject my reading with some new, recentish, books. So I went a little crazy. I think I bought about five new hardcovers and about as many paperbacks, knowing almost nothing about any of them save what was written on their covers. My success with the books I bought that day has been less than stellar. Beautiful Ruins: Did Not Finish. Dissident Gardens: DNF. At The Bottom of Everything: Really Disliked. And there might be one or two others that faced similar fates.

And then I picked up Americanah. What a fantastic book. The main character's voice and Adichie's easy, smart prose drew me in from the get go. When I was in the middle of enjoying this novel I saw someone Tweet about how she was struggling with getting into the book. It was one of those moments when you think that a person must be crazy. I suppose I could give that Tweeter a pass if there were things about the book that weren't her cup of tea, but to struggle with it? Some people.

Although it is both a relationship book and a coming of age story, Americanah is so much more. As Ifemelu navigates through her school days, her relationships, and becoming an independent person, she does it all while transitioning from the life she has known in Nigeria to a new and very different life in America. And Adichie does it so well. There is lots of humor, there is much that one can identify with on a personal level, there are observations about US and UK culture that I found highly insightful, and there is a fascinating look at life in Nigeria.

It is too easy to reduce Africa to that single word 'Africa' and call it a day. As with many things that I am not actively studying, I have had a murky understanding of most aspects of life on that enormous continent. I have a good friend from college days whose family emigrated to America from the west African country of Liberia, I spent a week on safari in Kenya, and I have another good friend who is a white South African, but all of my other notions about Africa were highly jumbled and taken from little bits and pieces of history and news headlines. My recent time-killing exercise of learning how to name all 196 countries in the world in less than 12 minutes actually turned out to be quite a good thing. Being able to place the countries in Africa on a map has been immensely helpful in understanding the continent and how the different countries that make up that jigsaw puzzle relate to each other. Reading Americanah was a wonderful way to help fill in one of the many gaps in my database.

But as the title suggests, Americanah is also a book about America. I was astonished how frequently I found myself chuckling and agreeing with Adichie's insight into American culture. And not just in an "oh, look at how different things are between Nigeria and America" kind of way. Adichie certainly offers that kind of commentary, but just as often it takes America on its own terms.

Easily one of my favorite books for the year.


19 comments:

  1. Beautiful Ruins - such a let down. In theory it had everything I would have loved but it was so smart-arse in its execution.

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    1. I liked the first two chapters. One in Italy, then one in Hollywood. But then it all just went wrong for me.

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  2. This is the only title by Adichie that I have yet to read (or buy), and I'm so excited about it! I'm starting to fear I should aim to lower my expectations before actually picking it up.. Then again, that is quite difficult when seeing such reviews as yours pop up :-)

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    1. I hadn't even heard of her until I got this book so I am quite excited that she has written others.

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  3. I think I hopped on Twitter and confessed my love for this book before page 10 and it never stopped from there.

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    1. I did a similar thing. It got me right from the start.

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  4. I'm a little shocked to see you reading something so new but this book sounds amazing, I might even track it down.

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    1. I know, crazy huh? Just goes to show that a good book is a good book.

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  5. Your review has made me reserve this from the library straightaway Thomas Just my cup of tea. Thanks so much indeed

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  6. Americanah has been on my mental "to read" list for some time. I thought her previous novel Half of A Yellow Sun was fantastic. You might try that one (but check it out from the library first, just in case).

    Sorry you didn't get on with Beautiful Ruins. I really liked it. It is slightly farcical, which often will put me off a book, but it was the melancholy romance of the book that really got to me and made me like it.

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    1. I think I wanted it to be a different kind of sunny Italy book.

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  7. Americanah is a great book and one easily deserving of all the accolades and awards it has received and those yet to come. Ms. Adichie's writing style is witty and unique and makes this book a fun read--as well as a cultural learning experience. Nigeria has been much in the news recently with the foul and inhumane treatment of its young women, which serves to remind us that the country is still seemingly very third-world, and in particular, a very dangerous place for young Nigerian women. I recently picked up a copy of Ms. Adichie's book Purple Hibiscus and am hoping I will like it as much as I have her other books--such as Half of a Yellow Sun.

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    1. It certainly made Nigeria much more of a real place for me.

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    2. Just read that Brad Pitt is preparing to produce a movie of Americanah with Lupita Nyong'o (Twelve Years a Slave) in the starring role. Didn't mention who might play the male lead. I'm always very apprehensive about anyone trying to translate a great book, such as Americanah, to the big screen. We shall see.

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  8. I have heard so many wonderful, wonderful things about this book that I sometimes feel like the last person to read it (I haven't read it yet). Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though. And sorry to hear that Beautiful Ruins didn't work out for you. If you ever decide to try Walters again, I liked his short stories (We Live in Water) better than Beautiful Ruins. Haven't read any of his other books though.

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  9. I have just found your blog (via a very roundabout route involving Barbara Pym) but I am so pleased that I did. I saw a positive review for Americanah in a magazine a while back, and your review has confirmed that it ticks many of the boxes that I look for in a good book. This one is definitely going to be added to my (very long) to-read list - along with any others that catch my eye as I work my way through your extensive back catalogue!

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    1. Yay! Good to hear from you Gertie. I hope you found lots of Pym stuff to look at here. What is your favorite Pym?

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