2013 is a defining year in my “reading life”. Why is that? Because in 2013, plenty of books are about immigrants – first and second generation. I have been wondering for quite some time now, when we will get past writing about colonialism, neo-colonialism and write more about the daily lives of Diaspora’s people or about contemporary issues. I always felt like they were so many stories waiting to be told. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed in that regard by Americanah. Just after reading Ghana Must Go and How to read the air , I was really looking forward to read this one.
I can’t wait to read and see more of this types of books. America or Europe are not what people think they are. When you are African, whatever you know about America you see on tV, well, TV is not reality! I am hoping that maybe these books will open the eyes of the people who stayed back. (Or maybe not!). Africans can be really stubborn about immigration. I want them to come prepare.
Every praise that I heard about this novel was justified (See my article on what people are saying about Americanah). And I, finally, understood why people were saying that this novel was about RACE and hair. Meanwhile, I still miss Ifemelu. How can this book be over! After 500 pages, I still want more. This is the power of Chimamanda’s storytelling. As Chinua Achebe rightly said :
she is blessed with the gift of ancient storytelling…
But first, as usual, a word about the author.
About the author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian-born author. She graduated from the Eastern Connecticut State University with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a Master’s degree in African Studies from Yale. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels. She has won several prizes for her two novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a yellow sun. She is also well-known for her speech about “the danger of the single story” at TEDGlobal in 2009.
About the book
Here is the official except:
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor— had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
From a reader point of view, I would say the book is divided into three major parts ( technically the book has more than 7 parts) – the pre-immigration part, the immigration part and finally the Back-home part.
Pre-Immigration part: Ifemelu in Nigeria
The first leg the story is happening in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are in high school. Their life is a pretty normal one. They both met and fell in love. Around their love story, a lot of things are happening in Nigeria.
Point Worth mentioning and believe me it was really hard to decide:
- The Church and Africans: there is this strange relationship between Ifemelu’s mother and churches. She strongly believes that if she prays hard enough God will allow her to be rich. When that doesn’t happen quickly enough, she simply moves to another church. People are so desperate in some African countries, that they will believe anything the so-called “Man of God” aka priests tell them. Meanwhile, the priest is getting richer and richer.
- Young beautiful women vs Old rich men : Ifemelu’s aunt who came, from the village, to attend University met the General, as he is referred in the book, who became her “sponsor”. If you watch Nollywood movies, then you know what I am referring to. Young women sleeping with older man in exchange of money and financial security. Because those men want to control their women, they give them just enough money to maintain their lifestyles. You will always have to come back to them for more. Sadly, the general died and she was left with nothing. Predictable!
- Nigerian politics: During Ifemelu and Obinze high school years, Nigeria was under military rule. Every now and then, there is a coup or an attempted one in the book. That’s how the General got killed and left Ifemelu’s aunt with a child and nothing. If you know your history, then you are aware that Nigeria has been under military rule for the best part of his 50-odd years of independence from Britain. The political situation got so bad at one point, that people, who were able to, left the country.
- 9/11 and African young men: One of the lesser known consequences of 9/11, was that all young men was considered suspicious, black or otherwise. This issue bereaved so many young Africans of a higher education abroad. We could call it discrimination but since it was done in the name of protecting american civilians, it makes it alright (for them of course!)
Immigration :Ifemelu’s in the US
The novel started with Ifemelu going to do her hair, in an African saloon, for her trip back home. The hairdressers were from West Africa – Senegal and Guinea. If you have been to the US, then the first chapter of this novel is very familiar to you.
Here is what I like or note about this part:
- Natural hair and saloon in America: Being natural has gone viral! Some peole do it for identity purposes, others for style. Even, I am rocking my ‘fro everywhere. The author has gone natural as well. So you will find natural hair tips here and there in this novel.
- Sisterhood of African Immigrants: At one point of this story, the narrator actually points out to an instant bond between Ifemelu and Aicha, because they were both African Women. It is just beautiful, this link you share with other African migrants, wherever you are.
- Black American for African: I love these little boxes at the end of some chapters. It was just brilliant. These are reflections on African-American by an African. On some of them, Ifemelu reflects on acculturation and blending, on being black in America, on racism, on poor black versus poor whites, hispanic versus black…
- Other themes developed in the book: Bloggers earning money, black people and sunscreen, the upper middle class attitude toward black people, charity and the upper middle class, qualified African immigrants in America ( ex: doctors..), mixed couples, diaspora and the politics of their home country – they have strong opinions from afar – chasing the American dream, identity, suicide…
One think you should know is that I love everything about this book. Here are the Things that threw me out of my chair:
- American Tribalism: This one is the shocker. But when you think about it, she is so right. So here are the four tribes: Class (rich vs poor), Ideology (liberal vs conservatives) they think each other are evil, Region (north vs south) north look down on the south, south resents the north and Race (WASP, black and hispanic).
- The social ladder: WASP – white Anglo-Saxon protestant – always on the top, Middle depends on place and time and American black – always on the bottom
After Immigration: Ifemelu back to Nigeria
In this part of the story, Ifemelu and Obinze are both back to Nigeria. They meet again and start an affair.
Some observations about Ifemelu’s time in Nigeria after her sojourn abroad:
- Social pressure, Africa and marriage: It seems to Ifemelu, that people was obsessed with marriage – Everyone. When are you getting married? Are you married? Don’t worry you will find someone? It was getting on my nerves and I was far away. Imagine!
- Corruption and Rich Nigerian: Obinze is really wealthy at the end of the novel. How? I will let you read that. What is really funny is the way the rich Nigerian behave – It’s not different from other Africans, but I think Nigerians are richer – latest cars, huge mansion, 5 phones, flying first class British Airways…
- Marriage and African: How do African see marriage? I find very interesting this statement made, by a friend of Obinze, at a party:
Nobody marry the person he loves here, we marry the person that was available when we needed to marry….We are Africans we don’t divorce because of love…
Food for thought, Indeed!
I feel like every single African should read this book or at least read the section label “ Reflections on Black American by a non-black American”. I definitely recommend Americanah. I really enjoy it. One thing I didn’t expect was how much I laugh reading it.
Chimamanda, you are my hero!