readers of the new school: ‘americanah’ by chimamanda ngozi adichie

November 27, 2013

Nigerian born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book Americanah is a vivid tale that illustrates the complexity of life in the US for many Africans. The story centers around the life of Ifemlu and Obinze, two bright college students who fell in love at a young age, the two are forced to part ways and leave their country due to unrest in their area and university strikes. The two are separated when Ifemelu moves to the US to continue college, and Obinze heads to London. The story centers on their experiences as Africans in these new, very different environments.

By Damola Durosomo, AFROPUNK Contributor

Adichie does an amazing job of portraying the many challenges that many Africans in America face. Ifemelu faces challenges when it comes to how she styles her hair and how people react when she tells them that she is from Africa, she finds that they often times react in a way that shows their concern for Africa, a place that they consider to be needy and severely underdeveloped. Ifemelu has a blatantly negative reaction to this and decides to start a blog in which she discusses such issues. Obinze takes a much different path, he is thrust into life as an illegal immigrant in London and therefore receives inferior, and often times unpleasant treatment. The stories of these characters give the reader two different perspectives, both are relatable and reflect those of many people of African descent in the Western world. It is a very honest account of how countries such as England and America, despite their status as inclusive and diverse nations do not fully live up to these standards; instead certain groups are treated as outsiders, forced to assimilate into Western culture, and lumped into a single group with no regard to their differences or cultural uniqueness. One of the many memorable quotes from the book portrays this troubling fact perfectly:

“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”

I know that as a Nigerian kid in America, I have certainly felt this way. It seems that many in these “developed” nations are still ill informed about Africa and this has a very significant impact on our experiences in this nation; while many come to America seeking advancement and opportunity, they are often met with a much darker reality and begin to long for home. This was the case for Obinze, who was met with success and wealth once he returned to Nigeria but not so much for Ifemelu who struggled to find peace of mind in a place that she had formerly experienced turbulence and misfortune. This presents a challenge to their relationship and forces them to deeply assess their new lives and their experience overseas. The implications of this story also sheds light on the treatment of Americanahs (the slang used to describe Nigerians who have been “Americanized”) in Nigeria and the issues that many face when they finally do return home.

Adichie does an excellent job, of defining what it means to be African- American and American-African, a distinction that is commonly overlooked when looking at blacks in America. She explains that though these groups are connected in many ways, it is important that certain characteristics that make each group special not be overlooked. She luridly illustrates the sometimes-unwelcoming treatment that immigrants face and the challenges that are brought on by being a foreigner in this country. Through doing so gives a very thorough analysis of race relations in the United States, England and Africa and she does so in a very affective way. Though Americanah is a fictional story, it is educational and relevant in so many ways! Adichie is truly a brilliant writer, and I believe that this is her best work so far!
You can purchase Americanah HERE! Be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you think!