Day 954: Americanah

Cover for AmericanahIfemelu has decided to return to Nigeria after living in the United States for 13 years. She has just finished a fellowship at Princeton and broken up with her American boyfriend, Blaine. In preparation for leaving, she also winds down her popular blog about race in America. While she is getting her hair braided, she thinks about her journey to this point.

Ifemelu grows up in a Nigeria where, for the young, the only hope seems to be to leave the country. Her father has been out of work for years because he was too proud to call his boss “Mam.” A few fat cats, like the general supporting Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju, are unbelievably rich, but there is no opportunity ahead of them for the young middle class. Most of them dream about leaving the country.

In high school Ifemelu falls in love with Obinze, who dreams of going to the States. The two enroll in a college in Nigeria where Obinze’s mother is a professor. But the dorm’s lavatories aren’t working and the professors haven’t been paid in months. Eventually, they go on strike, and Ifemelu must return home to Lagos. When she hears Ifemelu is at loose ends, Aunty Uju, who is now living in New Jersey, suggests that Ifemelu move there to go to school and help her care for her son.

In New Jersey Ifemelu begins struggling to find work, for her scholarship only pays 75% of her expenses. It is in this time period that she does something that separates her from Obinze. She stops taking his calls or responding to him.

Obinze has his own problems. His lack of opportunity in Nigeria eventually brings him to England as an illegal immigrant. There he struggles along with menial jobs, giving kick-backs to work under other men’s names. He is about to marry a woman for citizenship when he is deported.

Much of the novel is about the difficult immigrant experiences of the two main characters (although we spend much more time with Ifemelu) and Ifemelu’s experiences of race problems in the United States. Ifemelu’s observations on her blog provide an interesting, sort of third-party, perspective. With all of the recent police shootings of unarmed black men that have happened lately, this is a  topic that is on everyone’s minds.

I went back and forth on how much I liked this novel. In Ifemelu, Adiche creates a good, strong voice and a believable, likable character. I was not so enamored of the love affair at the center of the novel. The coming of age section at the beginning of the book I found trite and a little tedious, but that is only about 60 pages long. However, the moral decisions at the end are more troubling, or in fact, that there is absolutely no thought about them, that’s what troubles me. I found very interesting, though, Ifemelu’s reaction to the changed Nigeria when she comes home.

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6 thoughts on “Day 954: Americanah

  1. Read Diverse Books August 16, 2016 / 2:07 pm

    I hope you found this book worth your time. I absolutely adored it. Ifemelu was a fascinating character because I found her unpredictable and trying to puzzle out her motivations was difficult but rewarding experience. I understand your concerns about the moral decisions that happen all throughout the novel as well.

    • whatmeread August 16, 2016 / 2:10 pm

      Yes, it was worth my time. I just had reservations about it.

  2. Helen August 16, 2016 / 3:37 pm

    I thought this was an interesting book with a lot of fascinating insights into the subjects of race and immigration. As a novel, though, it didn’t really work for me – I wasn’t interested in the love story and didn’t really care whether Ifemelu and Obinze got back together again or not. I thought the other Adichie book I’ve read, Half of a Yellow Sun, was better.

    • whatmeread August 16, 2016 / 3:41 pm

      I agree with you, especially on the romance. I did think the material about race and immigration was interesting. Maybe I should try Half of a Yellow Sun.

  3. Carolyn O August 21, 2016 / 7:20 pm

    I’m embarrassed not to have read Adiche yet, but I think I’m going to start with We Should All Be Feminists.

    • whatmeread August 22, 2016 / 7:27 am

      I’ll be interested to see how you like it.

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