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Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,256 followers
July 29, 2016
UPDATE: Now with irritating author interview! See end of review.

Those of you who know me know I don’t really have favorite authors: I have favorite books, occasionally favorite series. So you won’t be surprised that after I thought Half of a Yellow Sun was amazing and Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck fairly good, I’m giving 2 stars (edit: 1 star) to Adichie’s latest. Typical. But really, yikes! This isn't even a novel: it's a 477-page opinion essay with some characters thrown in.

Read the blurb and you'll be told Americanah is about a pair of star-crossed lovers from Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze, following their adventures as immigrants in the U.S. and U.K. respectively. Technically that's in the book, but Americanah is really a series of vignettes in which an endless parade of minor characters talk about race, nationality, and various other issues, with Ifemelu in the background. (Obinze is here more as her love interest than a protagonist in his own right, and we only get a few chapters from his perspective.)

So here's the thing. If you're looking for a book of observations about race in America, you might like this. Adichie certainly has a lot of them. But for me this bloated book was a complete slog--I read 5 others from start to finish while plodding through it. The most interesting parts of the characters' lives, the moments when something is actually at stake, are breezed through in narrative summary, while the book focuses in on mundane conversations illustrating Adichie's points about race. There's no real plot, no tension or momentum, and I found it impossible to summon any interest in the characters, as I was kept at a distance from them throughout.

There are two types of scenes here, both of which feel as if they could have been lifted directly from the author's life or the lives of people she knows, and then strung together with little sense of continuity. In the first, Ifemelu encounters someone who says something ignorant, biased or otherwise unfortunate on the subject of race or nationality. In the second, Ifemelu attends a social event where a group of people talk about race or nationality. A revolving door of bit-part characters exists to opine on these subjects: there must be 200+ named characters in this book, almost all of whom appear in only one or two scenes and are developed only through brief sketches. Even in the last 10 pages of the book, Adichie's introducing us to a whole new group of people so that they can talk about the economic problems in Nigeria. Which is representative of the extent to which the entire book is more a platform for the author to talk about issues than a story.

And perhaps because Ifemelu's primary role is as an observer who blogs about other people's foibles (actual blog entries are scattered liberally throughout), she mostly comes across as self-righteous and judgmental. When she does act, it's usually to be unpleasant: she passive-aggressively starts fights with her boyfriends, writes personal blog posts about friends without their permission, and when a co-worker criticizes her behavior, her response is to call the co-worker ugly. Ifemelu seems to tolerate other people in her life only insofar as they don't inconvenience her (and she's easily annoyed, by everything from her parents daring to visit her to a boyfriend moving on with his life after she cuts him off), and she radiates disdain for everyone she meets, even those closest to her. Normally I'm a fan of flawed female protagonists, but Ifemelu is neither interesting nor admirable, drifting through a story that seems to take readers' identification with her for granted, with little narrative awareness of her flaws.

As for the most prominent part of the book then: the discussions about race. My response was mixed. There are certainly some good observations here, and Adichie is absolutely right that there ought to be more novels about how people experience race today, instead of the endless parade of books about slavery or Jim Crow that make us feel good about how far we've come rather than challenging us to do better. Sometimes Adichie exaggerates, although not fatally so--for instance, in a shopping scene where the characters are unable to identify which salesperson helped them because the only way to distinguish between the two is that one is black and one white, and they're unwilling to mention race. This could certainly happen and says something about American society, but Adichie seems quick to generalize, as if all Americans would react in the same way (I doubt most would be as stymied by the situation as the characters presented here). But while Ifemelu is always confident in her opinions, and gets annoyed with people who disagree with her, Adichie merely presents her conclusions rather than leading readers to make them independently. People who don't already agree with her are unlikely to be convinced.

In the end, I was disappointed because I know Adichie can write great novels, where the focus is on the characters and their story and these elements are developed brilliantly. But that isn't this book. Adichie has a character argue against subtlety in writing novels about race, but surely it's possible to talk about race honestly and tell an engaging story at the same time, rather than sacrificing the latter for the former. I give an extra half-star because the writing is not bad, because those few scenes where she stops pontificating and develops Ifemelu's experiences hooked me, because there are some good observations. But as a novel, Americanah is unsatisfying, and for me proved to be a tedious, heavy-handed slog, easily double the length the plot required. I'll promise here and now that if Adichie decides to publish an essay collection or memoir on the subject, I'll read it. But this cross between blog and novel results in a story and characters too thin to entertain, choked out by observations and opinions that would be better communicated in nonfiction. I simply can't recommend it, and the high rating so far completely mystifies me.

UPDATE: So I read an interview with Adichie here, in which she says:

Still, it seems it is mostly American readers who most miss the fact that “Americanah” is supposed to be funny. I laughed a lot when writing it (although it is a bit worrying to be so amused by one’s own humor). But I suppose race when bluntly dealt with does not blend well with that wonderful, famed American earnestness.

Oh, where do I even begin? First, there's the "If you don't find my jokes funny, it's definitely not because I'm not funny, it's because you don't get that it's supposed to be funny" angle. Some writers do humor well and some don't. If you don't, best not to claim it's your readers' shortcoming.

Second, there's the "Oh, American readers in general don't think it's funny? It's definitely not because it's inside humor that's really only going to appeal to people with similar experiences. It's obviously an American problem, so let's see if I can come up with a stereotype that'll explain it!" angle. (I mean, WTF, now we're supposed to be earnest? I thought we were supposed to be fun-loving but oblivious, or something. But okay, it's pretty easy to stereotype a country of 315 million people, because whatever trait you come up with, millions of people will have it.) I'm not clear on how the elements some readers have found funny, like Ifemelu's father's pedantic way of speaking, are even related to race, but clearly Adichie would rather blame American racial attitudes (and compliment herself for her bluntness) than just admit she's not the world's best humorist.

Third, it's just so exactly something that Ifemelu would say, and the way she thinks and behaves throughout the book (superior, quick to generalize, always finding fault with others but never ever with herself) that it's really impossible to see Ifemelu as anything other than an author-insert. And you know what's 10 times more annoying than when an author you previously loved writes a book you kind of hate? When you then realize actually you don't think much of the author as a person either.
Profile Image for Somi.
Author 5 books195 followers
October 22, 2021
In Nigeria, we are brought up on foreign movies, sitcoms and TV shows, foreign books and foreign news. We know how English should be spoken, and many of us who bother to read a lot are very familiar with the colloquialisms of the west.

This is perhaps why we do not recognize how much we miss our own particularly Nigerian way of expression in the literature we read. It is perhaps why, when we read a phrase that is essentially Nigerian, in a novel like Americanah... “Tina-Tina, how now?” “Why are you looking like a mumu?” “How will you cope/how are you coping?”... All of them, familiar Nigerian modes of speech, we are infinitely grateful.

I am probably biased towards this novel, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, not only because Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which I read as a very young girl, awoke in me the possibility of good writing and beautiful prose by a Nigerian like me, but because of the familiarity of the book.

It’s like the word Americanah, such a Nigerian word, used to describe someone who had lived abroad for so long, they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They use American swearwords, or complain that the fries at KFC Onikan are limp, even though you see nothing wrong with them. This is when you turn to someone who understands and say, (No mind am, na Americanah), Don’t mind him, he is an Americanah.

Adichie’s latest follows Ifemelu, a bright, sharp and observant girl, from her early years in 1990’s Nigeria to a life in America where, after the first rude shocks of culture change in a new world where ‘fat’ is a bad word and not merely a statement of fact, where colour is such a big issue that it can rule people’s lives, and where everything is different, she slowly and surely starts to become an Americanah.

In Americanah, Ifemelu observes, and we are informed by her observations, she converses and we see her character, she remembers, and in her memories we see a rich story that begins in Lagos, journeys through the cities of America, and gains a body that is beautiful to savour. It is through Ifemelu’s observations that we experience what Americanah is about.

Hair. Specifically Black/African hair. Why do black women hide their hair? Would Beyonce ever allow the world to see her hair the way it really is, or would Michelle Obama? These are the questions Ifemelu asks in her blog, where after having lived in the United States for a long time, she broaches issues of race, hair and life in America from the eyes of a ‘Non-American Black’.

We experience race. Kimberley, the white woman who uses beautiful as a word to describe ‘black’, because for whichever reason, black is a word that should be said as little as possible. Kurt, to whom Ifemelu’s race means nothing, and Blaine, the Black American Yale professor, whose influence, in my opinion, would be the biggest in turning Ifemelu’s observations from the disinterested and amused observation of a ‘Non-American Black’ or ‘NAB’, who calmly tells Kimberly, “You know, you can just say ‘black.’ Not every black person is beautiful.” to those of an ‘American Black’ or ‘AB’, who would say in her blog. “If the “slavery was so long ago” thing comes up, have your white friend say that lots of white folks are still inheriting money that their families made a hundred years ago. So if that legacy lives, why not the legacy of slavery?” The old Ifemelu would have told the descendants of the slaves to ‘get over it’.

We also experience love. Adichie herself describes Americanah as a love story, and this is true. There is love in almost every book, but in Americanah, it is not accidental, it is a central part of the story. Before America, race, and hair became issues, there was Obinze, the love of Ifemelu’s teenage life. If Ifemelu, the daughter of a civil servant who lost his job because he would not bow to the excessive respect that Lagos Yorubas employ and call his boss ‘Mummy’, and uses English in such a way as to provide a hilarious sort of comic relief, is sharp and confident, then Obinze, the only son of a university professor, with his love for American books and his quiet belief in himself, is self assured and mature. They fall in love soon after they meet as secondary school students in Lagos, and when Ifemelu tells her aunt and friend, Uju about him, saying she has met the love of her life, there is a hilarious moment when Aunt Uju advises her to “let him kiss and touch but not to let him put it inside.”

While most of the story is seen though Ifemelu’s eyes and memories, we also get to see some of Obinze. We follow him to London, where he lives as an illegal immigrant, after failing to find a job in Nigeria, or to fulfill his dream of going to America. (He later visits America, when he becomes rich, and isn’t impressed. He lost interest when he realized that he could buy his way in.) In the UK, he is arrested on the eve of his sham wedding and repatriated. In all this, Obinze never loses a certain ‘solidness’, that he seems to possess effortlessly, In a democratic Nigeria, where a new middle class is rising, and the money that used to be the preserve of the top army generals starts to filter down, Obinze gets lucky in the way that only happens in Nigeria, where there really is too much money, and overnight he is a very rich man.

When Ifemelu starts to hunger for home, Obinze, with whom she has lost touch, is already a husband and father. “Meanwhile o, he has serious money now. See what you missed!” her friend, Ranyinudo tells her on a call from Nigeria. (How Nigerian to say something like that!) The central question becomes, will they get back together? To some, this is a weakness of the story, the descent into the fantasy of a happily-ever-after for the heroine and hero, but it is not such a bad thing in itself - It makes enjoyable, and hopeful reading.

In summary, I loved the story. I loved the familiarity of it, Ifemelu’s mother’s ridiculous religiousness, her father's ludicrous use of English, Aunty Uju, Ginika, Kayode, Emenike, who is perhaps one of the more interesting characters, as he strives to shed the life he was born with, to become what he wishes to be, and all the other different kinds of people that make up the rich tapestry that is Nigerian life.

Ifemelu is an interesting character, observant, watchful, sure of herself. Even as a teenager, she is confident in a way I wouldn’t have understood at that age. Obinze, knows himself in such a way that he doesn’t need to follow any crowd, or have anybody validate him. However, I did feel that the ending was rather rushed, as if the author had other things to do, and was hastily putting the final scenes together.

The main grouse I had with the book was the fact that I saw some elements from Adichie’s previous works. When Barrack Obama wins the election and her cousin Dike calls her to say that his president is black like him, I remember an interview long ago where Adichie says that her nephew had said the exact same thing after the elections. It made me feel cheated. This, the similarity of her relationship with Curt to the relationship of the characters in her short story, The Thing Around Your Neck; when Obinze describes his house in Enugu, and I see the house in Birdsong, the scene of another adulterous affair in another of her old short stories. How autobiographical is her work then? I ask myself. I begin to feel suspicious, perhaps all her characters are really herself and the people she knows.

I noticed that apart from Dike, her little cousin, and Obinze, and perhaps Obinze’s mother, Ifemelu does not seem very emotionally involved with the people that shape her life. Sometimes she seems like a watcher, an observer, and not a character in the story. Also, because this novel is really many observations and opinions, sometimes it does feel contrived, like a character or event has been introduced solely because they are a means to present an issue Adichie wants to discuss. Lastly, I did not find the blog interesting. Unlike the prose of the novel, the writing is not fluid, or very descriptive, and seems to jump from one issue to another, trying to cram many thoughts into one jumbled package. This may be because I am an NAB, and those issues mean little to me, perhaps the AB’s would read it differently.

Regardless, Americanah is a wonderful read, sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes sad, but always interesting.
Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,517 followers
November 22, 2013
One of the best books I've read in 2013. "Americanah" is a book of great impact and importance. This is the one book by an African writer that has spoken to me more than any other.

This is a book about Africa and the African diasporic experience in the USA and England, a backdrop for the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers attending a Nigerian university who have to leave the country because of the university strikes in Nigeria. Ifemelu moves to the States, where she attends an American university and starts a blog dealing with race issues in America, while Obinze moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant.

The book examines the intricacies of race, especially in the USA, as well as the issue of immigration. It talks about the difference between being black in Africa and being black in the States. Adichie is seamless as she goes from country to country, from American to Nigerian, to Francophone African and English. She is a brilliant writer who gifts us with an entertaining story and introduces us to very real characters.

I found some of the themes discussed in this book similar to those discussed in NoViolet Bulawayo's "We Need New Names." This book helps show that immigrants have it tough; psychological changes, changes to identity, the need to reinvent themselves so that they can “fit in” and be accepted, and so on. Their issues often go unspoken.

Adichie is very aware at the subtleties between cultures and she highlights them well. There were some things that she touched on that I’d thought about but never really put in words. For example, people’s pity when they realize you’re African, and their need to talk about their charitable donations to the continent:

"Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy."

Adichie isn't shy about bringing up controversial issues, those that others keep silent about. For example, she explores the politics of natural hair among kinky hair:

"I have natural kinky hair. Worn in cornrows, Afros, braids. No, it's not political. No, I am not an artist or poet or singer. Not an earth mother either. I just don't want relaxers in my hair...By the way, can we ban Afro wigs at Halloween? Afro is not costume, for God's sake."

One thing I also loved was the fact that Adichie talked about Africans deciding to return to Africa after having lived abroad. She has Ifemelu saying, "And yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, a bleakness, a borderlessness. It brought with it amorphous longings, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she had lived."

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, not all Africans in the diaspora are fleeing from Africa; many have questioned what they are doing abroad in the first place and want to move back home. A lot of people do not realize that Africa is growing and developing and that people might actually be happy to live there. Seeing the online communication links between younger people from different African countries makes me feel hopeful that my generation will do great things in the continent.

I love fiction in general but fiction with a message is even more appealing to me. This is a story with such important social commentary. All through the book I had moments in which I said "It's about time someone addressed that!"

Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
August 1, 2013
There's a lot going on here. This book is a beautiful mess. Adichie takes on race, immigration and emigration, the politics of natural hair, interracial relationships, what it means to leave home, and what it means to return, all wrapped up in a love story. The book is, at points, indulgent, just on and on the writing goes, the writer showing off her admittedly impressive way with words. Stronger editing would have done wonders for this book. But when this book is good, it is absolutely brilliant.
Profile Image for emma.
1,867 reviews54.4k followers
December 21, 2022
I, like any self-respecting bookworm, am a big fan of a bookstore.

Left to my own devices for a few hours, I will often find my way to one, usually an old favorite but sometimes a new one to try.

And once I am there, I will stay there for a very long time.

When I found this book, it was in the literary fiction section of a bookstore basement, where the used books were kept in winding rows.

Another thing about me: I keep a wish-list of books I mean to buy. When I want to buy one that isn’t on that list, I achieve a Bare Minimum Requirement of reading a few pages and seeing if I feel ordained to keep going. (I almost always do.)

So in this bookstore basement, on a Thursday night around 9:30 or 10 pm (yes, I know this is late. The coolest bookstores are open late), I found a chair in a corner under an unseemly pipe, plunked myself down, and started reading.

Over the next hour, a series of quirky college students had loud and performative first dates in a cycle so coordinated it was as if they scheduled it. First two girls yelled about how one of them had seen Panic! at the Disco at a rural gas station. Then a boy and a girl did an intentionally adorable thing where they pointed out the title of a book and tried to guess the plot (this was the girl’s idea, and the boy’s interest was never more than half-hearted). Then two older women shouted across the shelves about where the children’s section was before learning the answer: right f*cking in front of them.

That last one may not have been a date, but I promise it was equally annoying.

Through it all, I sat and read this book.

It wasn’t even a comfy chair, or a particularly pleasant room. It was just that good of a book.

My favorite TED talk (which is a very low bar) has been Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” since I watched it in a gender class a few years ago. In it, Adichie explains the pervasiveness of stereotypes and bigotry when only one story about a certain group is being told - she uses the story of Africa being a continent of poverty without technology, the only one told in America, as an example.

After I watched that talk in that class, and after I got home and watched it again, I should have gone right out and bought everything she’d ever written. But I didn’t. What a dummy.

This book is divine.

It is so, so beautifully written. I care about each and every character in a way that hurts my heart. It’s nearly 600 pages long, and character-driven to the point that there’s essentially no plot other than the daily progression of our protagonists’ lives, but if it were twice as long as I wouldn’t have minded.

It’s just that good.

I feel like it expanded my whole brain.

Everyone should get to have that feeling.

Bottom line: Everyone should read this book.


i missed reading this the second i finished it.

review to come / 5 stars

currently-reading updates

could someone please inform the work i'm supposed to be doing that i won't be doing it due to suddenly being unable to put this down? k thanks

tbr review

the best way to stay on track on your reading challenge is to read three books at once and also one of those books is 600 pages long
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
February 23, 2017
A few weeks ago I read The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story collection, and was immediately struck with her attention to detail in stories as short as six pages long. Desiring more of her captivating prose, I chose Americanah, her intricate discussion on race in three countries and continents. Taking place in Nigeria, the United States, and England, Americanah can be viewed by many as a novel that is one of the premier looks on race over the last five years.

Ifemelu and Obinze met in secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria and even then knew that they were the love of each other's lives. Enjoying a deep relationship often absent in teenaged love, the two attended the same university in Nsukka, where Obinze's mother was a full professor. She welcomed Ifemelu into her family, and the three lived a blissful life that is usually only found in movies. This existence is shattered one day when professors go on extended strikes, denying students their basic right to an education. Ifemelu applies for and receives a Visa to the United States, while Obinze's application is mired in bureaucratic red tape. Although the two are soulmates, they do not see each other for another thirteen years.

In Nigeria, Adichie explains through Ifemelu, people are blind to race because for the most part everyone looks the same. The second Ifemelu stepped off of the plane in the United States; however, race was everywhere-- from being denied employment even at low level jobs to the way professors talk to her at first, and even the treatment her Aunt Uju, a doctor, receives from prospective employers and the way Uju's son is treated at school. Going from a race blind to a racist country, Ifemelu pines for Obinze and the way things were in Nigeria yet is embarrassed to contact him. Instead, she dates a Caucasian and a African American, two people who she has nothing in common with. Eventually, Ifemelu founds and becomes successful at blogging as a non American black who offers her unique perspective on race to the table. As these blog entries were an aside from the story line, I looked forward to reading them in between chapters in order to glimpse Adichie's gleanings on the race question.

Meanwhile Obinze immigrates to and is later deported from England. There he discovers that he is on the low end of the race totem pole. As dark skinned as he is, his only job prospects are in menial labor that he is over qualified for. Although he thinks of Ifemelu everyday, she does not reach out to him, and the two go on to lead distinct lives. Obinze does not stay in England long as he is deported to Nigeria. After seeing how he had been treated in this supposed western super power, Obinze is happy to return to the comforts of home.

Throughout this novel, Adichie offers a variety of aspects of the race question, especially in Nigeria and the United States where she divides her time. Ifemelu can go from a person who finds one magazine- Essence- where people look like her back to a country where no one questions her because everyone is the for the most part the same skin color. Because this is a novel rather than real life, Adichie ties up all of the plot lines flawlessly even the ones that appear a little far fetched. I enjoyed reading her take on race and look forward to reading her novels set entirely in Nigeria to see if there really exists such a stark contrast on race relations in these two countries. A powerful kick off to African American history month, Americanah earns 5 full stars.
Profile Image for Debbie.
454 reviews2,891 followers
March 31, 2017
Warning: I love being part of the crowd, and the crowd is mostly all gushy about this book. But seriously, I wish I had walked away from it. I really wanted to like it, I really did.

This was the longest book of my life!!! 610 (Kindle) pages that felt like 1,000. I would be reading along and thinking, oh, I’m a little bored, let’s see how far I’ve gotten….and I’d look down at the bottom of my Kindle page and see that the progress bar hadn’t moved an iota!!! 17 percent, really? I’ve read all that, and all you can give me is 17 percent?? Now, the mere fact that I was looking at my progress instead of compulsively turning pages, tells you something. The thing was just too damn long. A tome, a giant, a big bloated blob. Cut it in half, and you might have a deal. Ah, where oh where are my editing scissors?

When I first started, I was impressed. Well-drawn, complex characters. Impeccable language. Structurally sound. Keen insights into personalities. All good. I didn’t feel this way for long.

Another plus, one that I’m only enjoying in retrospect, is the way the author so clearly shows the cultural differences between Nigeria and America. Adichie is super deft at zooming in on all the bumps that Ifemelu, the main character, feels as she lives as an immigrant in America. She must deal with the black and white conflict and also the African versus black American issue. Through all the confusion and attempts to fit in, Ifemelu faces tough differences in language, habits, viewpoints, and emotions. Ifemelu was sort of snobby and wasn’t entirely likable, but I still believed her and felt for her. I usually like analyzing and dissecting a person’s actions, motivations, denials, fears, and introspection, but here it was definitely overkill.

Adichie also did a good job of giving us a feel for life in Nigeria; that was the part I liked best. But all of it was painfully, painfully slow.

I’m dancing around the worst thing: it’s a message book, and I have trouble with preachy. The second half was the worst. Not only did Adichie go overboard with the lectures on racism, she also included a lot of very boring blog posts on racism. The sophomoric lectures put forth obvious ideas, and it annoyed me. I didn’t sign up to be a student in Racism 101.

And then there’s the thing about hair. On the plus side, Ifemelu’s obsession with all her hair problems was sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always engaging. On the minus side of hair, Ifemelu seemed to be too much of an intellectual to be so concerned with how her hair looked. Was that a superficial side of her (and was it believable), or is it just a truth about humans?—that we all worry about our appearance, regardless of whether we are intellectuals or not. And we all know that obsessing about how our hair looks is mostly a girl thing, so is it bad press for women?

The love story, though poignant, was way too drawn out. It was the best part but the shortest part. The last 50 or so pages, when the story heats up the most, were the best. I wanted a plot-driven novel about two star-crossed lovers, and it was far from that.

I can’t recommend this book, even though I want to. This kills me, since so many friends absolutely loved it. I must be honest: I never looked forward to picking up this book, which is a deal breaker right there. The bad parts –the preachiness and the excessive length--far outweighed the good parts. A painfully long read. Sorry, all I can say is 2.8.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
February 27, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

this is basically what was going through my head for most of the book: “AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!”

and then, more quietly in the background, under the shrieking:

“why haven’t i read this before now?”

because i was an early-adopter of adichie - i read Purple Hibiscus back when it was her only novel, and i pounced on Half of a Yellow Sun as soon as it was published and it immediately rose to the very top of my heart-pile of ‘favorite books ever.’

and then this came out and i just… dallied. i bought it the week it came out, but it’s just been hanging out on my shelves for years, being another unread hardcover i’d see and berate myself with, “good thing you paid hardcover price for that, asshole!”

but then one book, one new york came around and suddenly there was a force other than myself pushing me towards it, which was just what i needed to have my AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! moment.

because it’s phenomenal. and i started reading it one night, intending to just make some headway into it before pausing “pleasure-reading time” and transitioning into “getting some work done time.”

which did not happen that night, because i just sank into it. figuratively. but i did quite literally sink into my reading bunker, all pillows and stuffed pals and fleece blanket and dozing cat, reading so compulsively that i couldn’t even be bothered to reach over and turn on my reading lamp, instead just squinting myself into mole eyes, grandmotherly advice be damned!

this ‘review’ is going to be pure reader-response because i can’t even approach something this spectacular with my messy and gushy words, like vomit all over a unicorn.

she’s just so fucking talented - the whole ball of wax - characters, descriptions, story, observations; she’s so purely expressive and astute and so damn smart. the book’s gaze is broad: race, gender, class, relationships, beauty culture, the dislocation of the immigrant, all the warts america overlooks while it’s busy patting itself on the back - it’s tremendously entertaining and funny and true, and those blog posts are gold, my friends…

it just barely missed the five-star mark for me - i thought it poofed out a little at the end, making it slightly less perfect than her previous two novels, but it’s by no means flawed - this is a book that no one should have on their shelves, unread, for as long as i did.

be better than me at all things!


BOOM! new york is MINE!

review to come

one book, one new york!

doing my civic duty and reading this (finally). new yorkers who do not have this read by june will be deported to connecticut.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,854 followers
August 7, 2014
"What is it with you Americans and race?" my friend Fatima asked me one day over lunch. We were in her country, France, both students at a university tucked in a shadow of an Alpine peak. "Everyone always wanted to know where I was from. I'd tell them France and they'd say, no, where are you from? It made no sense. I was born in France. I'm French." Fatima, with her brown sugar skin and currant-black eyes, then turned to her boyfriend Karim and Arabic poured from her in a river of throaty consonants and chewy vowels.

A few years later, at graduate school in the Midwest, my friend James, a PhD student from Uganda, told me he didn't know he was black until he came to the United States. We were talking about the curious strain in his African Studies graduate program between the African students and the black American students. The term "African-American" baffled him. He got it, he understood its history, but it still made little sense to him. They were Americans- not black Americans, not African-Americans, but Americans, full-stop.

Race in America is an uncomfortable subject, mostly for white Americans. We still don't know where to look or what to do with our hands. We fidget and prevaricate, we, like blond-haired, blue-eyed, wealthy, liberal Kimberley in Americanah, use euphemisms like "beautiful" when we refer to black women so that everyone will know that not only are we not racist, but we think blacks are particularly worthy of our praise. Chimamanda Adichie reflects our beliefs and behaviors back on us, illuminating our silliness and our masquerades, our ignorance and our misguided, but earnest, attempts to understand the impossible: what it's like to be be something other than white in this very-race conscious society.

The thing about Adichie's novel is that it's written from a rarified world perspective. There is something very bourgeois about ruminating on race and class from ivory towers, as most of Americanah's characters do. Ifemelu's early years in the United States, when she lives a hand-to-mouth existence as a college student, and her Nigerian boyfriend Obinze's harrowing months in the United Kingdom, from which he is deported as an illegal, give glimpses of how the immigrant experience unfolds in the shadow of racial discrimination. But mostly, this novel is a glossy-magazine conversation between the author and her readers about the experiences of an upper-middle class African woman in America. And I loved it. I loved her voice, her warm and personal style, the way she straddles feminism and social awareness with navel-gazing vanity. I'm not sure if I'm talking about the character Ifemelu or the author Chimamanda Adichie, but the end result is the same. This novel charms at least as much as it educates.

A Washington Post reviewer referred to Americanah as social satire. Satire? Really? I didn't get that. I got a very lucid, grounded, contemporary look at race, class, and the immigrant experience in three nations--Nigeria, the United States, and the United Kingdom--built loosely around a love story. Adichie dances a very skilled and entrancing pas de deux between classic storytelling and social edification.

Satire does foam up in the metafiction blog “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-­American Black” written by the protagonist, Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. as a college student. Ifemelu, whose looks and experiences are based on the author's, fills her anonymous blog with stories about the American race and class dilemmas she observes as an outsider. The blog eventually wins her a fellowship at Princeton and her immigrant experience veers into another social track entirely: the liberal elite. Because of her skin color, Ifemelu is pegged as Black and it's assumed she will somehow understand the "Black" experience in America. But Ifemelu, like my Ugandan friend James, didn't know from racial distinction until she came to the United States. She makes a decision to guard her Nigerian accent, not to straighten her hair, to make it clear that she is neither Black nor American. She is Nigerian.

And after fifteen years in the United States, Ifemelu makes the decision to return to Nigeria, opening herself up to an experience unlike any she'd anticipated: the challenge of rebuilding her identity in a country that has moved on without her. It was a gift for this reader to have an insider's perspective on such a vast, complicated, and fast-changing nation, both before and after Ifemelu and Obinze's separate leave-takings and returns. Adichie takes the narrative many steps beyond most immigrant stories: what happens when you return home, to stay.

I had thought to withhold a star for some of the too-pat romantic relationships Ifemelu wends through and Adichie's sprawling, sometimes self-indulgent style, but I can't. I thought about this book when it wasn't in my hands, I couldn't wait to get back to it, and now, days after completing it, I'm eager to seek out more of Adichie- her writing, her speeches, her essays. I have so much to learn.

Profile Image for Warda.
1,207 reviews19.7k followers
May 30, 2020

“Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it.”

All the praise and stars for this book.
Just phenomenal. I'm at loss for words! Going on my list of favourite books of all time.
This book needs to be read by everyone!
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,386 followers
December 23, 2016
Everyone should read this book.

Adichie has really hit her stride in this one. After having read and adored her previous works, I knew I would love this one, and it didn't disappoint. It is by far her best work, and you can see the progression of her writing skill in Americanah.

Characters are what Adichie does best. Her books become progressively less plot-driven, but her ability to engage the reader with flawed, true characters is where she excels. Ifemelu is brazen and perhaps, to some, unlikeable at times. She speaks her mind, and her blog posts, which Adichie utilizes to speak openly about race issues in America (never getting too preachy) are hard-hitting. Obinze is a bit more of a flat character in comparison to Ifemelu, but he is steady.

The narrative structure is loosely, based mainly around the framework of present-day Ifemelu returning home to Nigeria after over a decade in America. At times we also get flashbacks to her university life with Obinze, and his own storyline, though in less detail than Ifemelu.

Adichie's prose is infused with emotion; it is effusive and genuine. She is best when she is being philosophical. Often we get inside the characters mind, not only to hear what they are thinking but to understand how they are processing their thoughts and relating them to their general opinion of the world. We get more than just a flurry of consciousness with Adichie; we get parsed out wisdoms and failures, all from the minds of great characters.

Without a doubt I can say Adichie is one of my favorite authors of all time. I will automatically buy and read anything she releases, because she is just. that. good.

If you've yet to read anything buy her, I recommend starting with The Thing Around Your Neck which is a short story collection, or her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.

First read: February 17-22, 2015
Second read: December 18-23, 2016
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
March 15, 2021
4.5 stars

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”

If there’s anyone here in America that really doesn’t understand that racism still exists or exactly what race relations are all about, then he or she needs to sit down with Adichie for a reality check. Through the lens of two Nigerian immigrants, Adichie offers an incisive exploration of race, class, and immigration. Ifemelu and Obinze are young lovers who attend university together and then part ways when Ifemelu acquires a visa to study in the U.S. while Obinze is unable to do the same. He eventually lands in England, giving Adichie the unique opportunity to address her themes from two vantage points. Both characters will find that what they’d imagined of life outside of Africa would turn out to be a bit of an illusion, with multiple barriers to freedom, advancement and ultimate happiness.

“That first summer was Ifemelu’s summer of waiting; the real America, she felt, was just around the next corner she would turn. Even the days, sliding one into the other, languorous and limpid, the sun lingering until very late, seemed to be waiting. There was a stripped-down quality to her life, a kindling starkness, without parents and friends and home, the familiar landmarks that made her who she was.”

After time, both find some measure of success, but will question whether they are being true to themselves or not. I loved getting Ifemelu’s perspective in particular. As a character, she was skillfully developed. Despite the fact I have very little in common culturally with Ifemelu, I was able to connect with her – Adichie helped me grow alongside her. Ifemelu begins writing a blog and portions of these are scattered throughout the novel. This blog is one of the ways that Adichie, through Ifemelu, educates the reader on the differences of being a non-American black versus an African-American. Through her love life we see Ifemelu’s own conflicting feelings regarding race in America. She begins to read voraciously and joins the African Students Association. She educates herself. Why must it be the newcomer that does all the legwork for us? Shouldn’t we all be doing these things – here, right now?

“And as she read, America’s mythologies began to take on meaning, America’s tribalisms—race, ideology, and region—became clear. And she was consoled by her new knowledge.”

Obinze has a completely different experience from Ifemelu. With England as a major disappointment to his ambitions, he finds himself back in Nigeria. Ifemelu too will make her way back home after a period of years. This then gives another unique perspective as she tries to fit back into the old places with the old friends, including Obinze. Adichie doesn’t make this easy, and I appreciated the nuances of their friendship being reestablished after so many changes in both of their lives. Yes, this is a love story of sorts, but it’s so much more than that. Happiness is a fleeting thing, difficult to grasp.

This is the second Adichie novel I’ve picked up. I’ve also read a couple of her shorter works, which I loved. I found this to be a more mature offering than Purple Hibiscus, though that was an admirable first novel. She writes dialogue so well, so convincingly. She breathes life into all of her characters, but especially into Ifemelu. Her settings are vividly drawn and she shifts seamlessly between the US, the UK and Nigeria. She handles the very relevant topic of race and identity with penetrating insight and compassion. The only thing that holds me back from the extra half star is that just maybe this could have been pared down a tad. It’s long, which is not really a problem for me. However, some of the themes were repeated a bit in the last portion of the book. Regardless, I think Adichie is a powerful voice and I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to her once again.

“Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember that it’s not about you.”
Profile Image for Mena.
91 reviews31 followers
June 23, 2013
Sigh. I really wanted to be here for this novel, but damn: the two main characters - especially Ifemelu - were barely likeable after her move to America, all the other characters (especially the Americans and "nouveau riche" Nigerians) were very one-dimensional, the adjective use was next level and I felt like I was being lectured half the damn time. Adichie's prose is beautiful and she knows how to evoke emotion, but her politics - at least on the topic of race and class - feel very staid: I didn't feel like I was hearing anything new or particularly thought-provoking. And the ending/romance storyline between Obinze and Ifemelu... fail. I think Adichie's strength is in her short story writing (although I'm hoping that rereading Half of a Yellow Sun will prove me wrong). I think, sadly, I'm falling out of love with Nigerian literature's golden girl.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,265 reviews2,439 followers
July 19, 2022
This book is simply brilliant. It is just impossible not to love this one. Just go for it
"Why did people ask "What is it about?" as if a novel had to be about only one thing."
Profile Image for Jack Edwards.
Author 1 book205k followers
September 26, 2019
I thought this book was insightful, powerful, and unbelievably necessary. The way Adichie writes is so beautiful and earnest, providing an eye-opening account of modern life for those of African descent in modern America. It was LONG - probably longer than it needed to be - and a revolving door of random characters come and go, and so it feels a tad like a non-fiction commentary on race and identity padded out into a love story. However, I feel as though its length is part of the art: it's a person's life, and we as readers must endure the peaks and troughs of reality just as the protagonist does. It's a book which is rewarding to have finished, and so worth sticking along with for the ride.
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews338 followers
March 1, 2017
I've been trying to formulate exactly what I think and how I feel about Americanah, a frustrating but fascinating read. And ultimately, I think that as a novel of ideas, concepts, exploration of how we as humans of various backgrounds understand and confront identity and immigration and race in the modern day, and a spotlight on the Nigerian and African diaspora in the US and UK, Americanah has much to recommend the reader, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's intelligent observations and smart, incisive prose are by turns enlightening, heartbreaking, infuriating. But as a novel of narrative, it failed to convince me that its characters were anything more than constructs designed to elicit specific scenarios, conversations, actions that could provide a platform for Adichie's ideas and opinions. And because I didn't believe in or connect with Obinze or especially Ifemelu, I could not root for them, care about their love story since it seemed of far lesser importance and had correspondingly less meat and development. So I'd give this a solid 3 stars: I liked it, Adichie can clearly write very well, and there's so much in the way of intellectual stimulation and thought provoking content. But it missed for me as a narrative, and I felt the plot and characterization flimsy and ineffective.

Profile Image for Dincy.
37 reviews9 followers
May 4, 2013
I'm only about halfway through this book but I am enthralled. I was afraid that I was over-eager and could only be disappointed, that I had set the bar too high, that I should remember that Adichie is only human, after all. But my fears were misplaced. ''Chimmy'' is back as strong as ever. I am mildly amused at how she's promoted the book in her interviews as being "about hair". This book is about race, and culture. (Admittedly, that's what it says in the blurb.) Anyway, so far, it is brilliantly on point.

(I'm saving the last star for in case it nosedives).


It didn't nosedive. It picked up, and sprinted at the finish. Having not too recently moved overseas from Africa, I can relate to this story very closely, which made it all the better a read. It is validation. She voices things that are not often voiced, the undertones (and less subtle experiences) of racism that we experience, the realisation of one's colour when one has never been conscious of colour before; the difference between people of colour born amongst colour, and those born elsewhere; the mild shocks and intense pleasures of returning home; the way at the end of it all, all we want is to be home.

Adichie is a master story-teller. I felt so connected to her characters that sometimes, distracted by someone speaking to me while I read, I would be surprised to find that Obinze was not sitting opposite me. But what I love most about Adichie's work is her ability to expose - to talk about those things that ''we don't talk about''. She is ballsy and opinionated and political, without being self-righteous and while still just... telling a story.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews985 followers
June 13, 2022
'Americanah' is a kind of snide term directed to, and sometimes at, Nigerians who have spent time living in America before returning, with an assumed superiority complex. The deeply passionate university sweethearts Ifemelu and her boyfriend Obinze, like many of their peers always had their eyes on migrating to the West, as they saw scant opportunity under the military ruled Nigeria. With alternate chapters but very much focusing on Ifemelu we follow their time in the West, she in the United States where she gets to feel 'Black' (= other) for the first time; and him in UK struggling to get papers so that he can stay and prosper legally. But frankly this book is all about Ifemelu for me, already one of my fave characters in fiction, so well realised, so awe inspiring yet so authentic feeling.

I love everything about this book as it tells the reader how middle class Africans (in this case Nigerians) see the world, how essentially different they are, or how different their condition is to African-Americans and Caribbean peoples. This is very splendidly written; includes multiple authentic characterisations of people from numerous backgrounds; has a super sound interpretation of even the minutiae in the United States, the UK and Nigeria; and as ever Adichie captures the intricacies of modern relationship dynamics so much better than most of her peers... but...

But what pushes this work in to the genius sphere is how it uses looking at race through the lens of a Nigerian in America, to really truly talk about race, really getting into it, and it's done so powerfully because it's around the culture shock of a Nigerian coming across systematic and widespread anti-Blackness for the first time...where for the first time in her life she could classify herself as 'Black'.

It is also has interesting and educational(!) snippets on Black hair, skin tones, American racial hierarchy and bi-racial relationships; as well as post 9-11 America, post-military rule capitalist Nigeria, the Liberal elite; diversity programmes, blogging and the coming of Obama; and if that wasn't enough the entire book is written around the idea of 'true love' and the compromises we make in life and/or with ourselves to deny it? In case you need me to spell it out, this is a Five Star Read - 10/12.
Back-to-back Five Stars for Adichie - Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

2022 read
Profile Image for María.
144 reviews3,090 followers
November 18, 2016
Una vez leí que Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie era una de las voces más potentes que teníamos en literatura en este siglo. Pensé: menuda exageración. Prejuzgué, sin ni siquiera haberla leído. Tiempo después me hice con Americanah. Me siento feliz de decir que me equivocaba. No estaban exagerando.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
237 reviews
May 18, 2014
I enjoyed Adichie's novel Purple Hibiscus, but this book was a slog, for multiple reasons. I wish Adichie had written a memoir, rather than a semi-autobiographical, overly-long, meandering novel wherein we are treated to the narrator's supercilious, self-important observations about immigration, race, and class. The observations are keen and I don't disagree with their general message, but the delivery is smug and repetitive, an endless series of cocktail and dinner party scenes where the narrator mocks the ridiculousness of liberal and conservative Americans. Moreover, these scenes make the same points over and over again -- all Americans think Africa is one country, all Americans are simpering and insincere in their desire to undertake charity, all Americans mistake organic food and yoga for real taste and authentic social justice, all Nigerians are insecure and striving, and so on and so on. The narrator, Ifemeulu, is thoroughly unlikable because no one is perfect enough to inhabit her world alongside her (except perhaps her love Obinze and her cousin Dike). For nearly 500 pages, Ifemulu judges, judges, judges, and she's never wrong. Even Ifemulu's own flaws, such as lying and cheating, are portrayed as justifiable responses to the petty jealousies and insecurities of those around her. She never grows as a character.

My overall sense is that Adichie attempts too much in this book-- she wanted to write an epic story of love, immigration, identity, belonging, race, and class. Instead she wrote an exhaustive novel with no action and self-satisfied "wink wink nudge nudge" musings that, in the end, make the author and the book insufferable. There's a line in the book where one of the earnest, clueless Americans (there are so many) tells Ifemulu that "it must be so hard to write a book about race in America." It was here that I lost patience, because Adichie is positioning herself- via Ifemulu-- as a visionary. While the overall content of the observations may be spot-on, the beating-the-dead-horse nature of the novel shows intolerance -- over time, the book becomes less and less about race and immigration, and more about Ifemulu's (and perhaps Adichie's) pure distaste for the flaws of human beings, whatever their color, class, or creed. There's no compassion, and I'm not sure how something so devoid of empathy can be at all visionary.
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,536 reviews
June 13, 2013
It's my first Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book for some reason. My only experience with Nigerian literature heretofore has been Things Fall Apart which I've read multiple times and think exquisite. I had no notion of what to expect with this book, but I do know I was hoping for an idea of a modern Nigeria. I'm also always up for cultural clashes and the dynamics of race, so this was all set to be a fantastic experience.

Obviously, that didn't happen and for the most part, this book is a disappointment for me. First, the thing that I did like about it - the observations on the still prevalent racism in America. Perhaps exaggerated for effect, it still resonates. It would have been a much better novel for me had it solely concentrated on Ifem's blog articles on Raceteenth. I understood the alienation Ifem felt when she first encountered the question of race (since it didn't exist in Nigeria), and how alone she felt when she got back to her country, both her and her country not the same as when she left it. It was mostly academical, since my longing for my country is not as much as my longing for family, but I did understand. I felt most for Ifem's confused cousin Dike, a Nigerian child who migrated to the US really early in life, who doesn't really know what he is. He has issues, and I do wish they were dealt with in a better, more Nigerian (as in more open) fashion, and we could see, if not a resolution, at least a better understanding of what he felt.

The multiple issues (race, economy, alienation, bloodymindedness) is also partly my problem with the book. It's done well, almost too well, to the extent that plot and character development is compromised. When there is a chapter left in the book and a major issue to resolve, we meet a whole hoard of new people with the express purpose of discussing some random problems with Nigerian economy that we've neither heard before nor will we hear again. Had this been solely a commentary or an essay this would be acceptable, but it's not. It's a novel where we are supposed to care for the star crossed lovers - Ifemelu and Obinze - who are divided by time, oceans, marriage etc. Or at least we're supposed to care for Ifem (we see Obinze only rarely in this ~500 pages long book), and it's hard when her issues are unceremoniously swept under the carpet of the election chances of Barack Obama. This is a plot point.

I'm not upset that the characters Adichie made up are flawed. But I am upset that their flaws are not given a context other than race. Ifem had issues that were not dealt with, issues that marred her every serious relationship. Especially the ones with the two Americans, one white and one black, each of which she broke and couldn't even understand what her fault was and why they wouldn't forgive her. But when it comes to explaining those relationships later, Adichie makes out that it was a discontent Ifem felt that was all about race. It was not - she cheated and she lied. She cheated for a silly reason that she was curious about another man's sexual prowess, and she lied about something that wasn't important to her but was extremely important to her other half. It bothered me that in the second instance her other half, Blaine, would make the immediate argument, Oh you would've done differently had you been an American black, when he's never before showed an inclination to do so, thus giving her bewilderment about his anger a justification, when realistically the argument between sparring couples would have been You knew how important this was to me and you didn't do it. But the worst was that you lied to me. And not only do they not work this out, but enter Obama and the problem is gone. Until she decides to walk out on him anyway because her feelings for him has changed since the fight.

Ifem learns nothing. She holds herself above everything, an observer with more than a little self righteousness. She's also a hypocritical person, and quite shallow. When a co-worker points out to her, accurately, that she's a judgmental bitch who tries to make the whole paper she works for about herself, her pat response is, You need to get yourself a moisturizer and stop scaring people with that nasty red lipstick. And no, her coworker, who talks in teenage American, didn't call her out on physical appearance. This immaturity is all over her relationships. Her problems with her parents when they come to visit, and she sneers at them because they're provincial and not chic enough for America. Her prolonged (and disrespectful) silence with the supposed love of her life Obinze, when it was her problem that drove that distance between them, and her expectation that the man would come crawling back when she was finally ready. Her nasty treatment of everything that doesn't agree with her basically. Nothing is addressed, and ultimately no matter how well it's written, commentary on race, no matter how piercing or accurate it is, does not a good novel make, if there's some idiot with negligible emotional growth through the book spouting it.

The final nail in the coffin is the end, that starry eyed resolution for the two lovers with the magical love. I agree with Obinze's poor wife - Do you think you can just destroy this family because your old girlfriend came into town? Because you have had acrobatic sex that reminded you of your time in university?" - lust was all I got from their affair, at least from Ifem. Obinze cares more for her than she does for him, and I really don't think it would be long before Ifem starts to get bored with poor Obinze. So much for love. I really, really wish I could have liked this book better.

Edit: On the subject of books Adichie writes some of the most uncomfortable exchanges (for me). One, I find it weird that the one non African, black or otherwise, who discusses books with Ifem, touts A Bend in the River as the Great African Novel. I must be in the wrong crowd, because I can think of any number of people pointing to Things Fall Apart as that, without even knowing the title of Sir Vidia's book. In any case, for a person who sneers at other people assuming that a book can only be about one thing, Ifem is remarkably certain about her reading of A Bend being the only right one. Why can't it be about both, Ifem? Why can't it both be a love letter to colonialism as well as a book about the Indian Muslim character's isolation in a country not his? I mean, only because Ifem, a native African, was not aware of race and otherness before she stepped onto US soil, it doesn't mean an outsider wasn't persecuted within Africa. Furthermore, how is Ifem any different from the liberal Americans she lightly roasts in her blog? The ones who can crib unendingly about their country but cannot take even a slight slander of it from an outsider? Far be it from me to defend A Bend, it's been years since I read it, and I found it boring when I did, I found that exchange leaving a bad taste in my mouth, especially since a whole half of Americanah itself is given over to characters lusting after Europe and America.

Second, why should slavery be a part of ordinary conversation, when Adichie propounds against it as a topic of novels? I honestly can't remember the mouthpiece she uses for this view, there are too many characters with only one opinion to contribute to the book. Anyway, it's something that happened in the 1960s and white guilt should not be absolved so quickly, yet writing about it is somehow selling out? I don't understand how saying this is any different than white people saying slavery is so done?

Third, I found it ironic that one of the characters cries about how all the content in her book must be watered down for the non Black audience so that it's not all about race. Americanah is all about race (which is its strength, mostly), even when it has no reasonable cause to be. How could Adichie write this particular dialogue when it's untrue in the case of her own novel? Or is she immune because she's a literary big-shot? In that case, had she been honest, she could have added that line.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,217 reviews1,964 followers
October 8, 2021
I loved this book; even though it was long and essentially a romance, but there was so much more to it. It is also about race, gender and the nature of home. As the Guardian review points out, it is an exploration of structural inequality and types of oppression, but it is wrapped in a love story.
The novel revolves around Ifemelu and Obinze and their on/off relationship over time and distance. It starts in their teenage years in Nigeria and follows them around the world; Ifemelu to the US and Obinze to Britain and back to Nigeria. One of the delights of this is the way Adichie addresses and explores the complexity of relationships and the way we do things inexplicable even to ourselves; there is a great deal of warmth and I felt Adichie really cared for both of the characters she had created. There is an excellent supporting cast who slip in and out of the pages.
This quite conventional romance is used to explore a variety of oppressions. Race is explored, especially in the American context and via Ifemelu’s experiences and a very sharply written blog. Obinze’s experiences in Britain are more painful and Adiche captures the growing and irrational fear of asylum seekers and immigrants that is alarmingly growing in this country.
Relating to gender, Adichie has described this book as feminist (see her interview in the LA Times; if I was remotely computer competent I would provide a link, but I’m not so you’ll have to Google it!). Adiche addresses gender issues with a light but sure touch and was fascinated to read that she had inspired one of Beyonce’s recent songs (Flawless). It strikes me as I am writing this that one of Adichie’s gifts is to wrap some of the complex issues she addresses in a simple and easy to read story. I think it is un usual in a romance to get such a well balanced analysis of two characters in a relationship.
The return to Nigeria is interesting and addressed well with some satirically comic moments (the inherent comedy is one of the joys of this book). The whole in its scope and richness of character reminded me of Dickens (especially the scenes in the hairdresser).
It’s a good book. I’m reading Infinite Jest at the moment and this is half as long, easier to read, has no footnotes and there is a lot less tennis (definitely a plus).
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 7 books1,215 followers
May 12, 2021
"But beyond race, the book is about the immigrant’s quest: self-invention, which is the American subject. “Americanah” is unique among the booming canon of immigrant literature of the last generation (including writers Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gary Shteyngart, Chang-rae Lee, Dinaw Mengestu and Susan Choi). Its ultimate concern isn’t the challenge of becoming American or the hyphenation that requires, but the challenge of going back home."
Emily Raboteau in the Washington Post

I could not say it better than that.

The unflinching and refreshing honesty of an outsider's take on American politics, racial tensions, relations between men and women, between women themselves, education, immigration. The all-encompassing empathy of an artist for all human plights, for our idiosyncrasies and failures of the imagination, for our grit and stubbornness in the face of injustice. The sublime sense of humor of a writer in the face of incomprehensible behavior, deep-seated prejudice and warped logic.

There was so much to feel and learn and think about in this dazzling novel that I'm having a hard time gathering my thoughts into one cohesive whole. And maybe that's exactly the point. There is nothing cohesive about life depicted here. The characters are all fleeting constructions of their own imaginations, their own desire for survival, their own need for validation. They are constantly evolving, changing, reassessing, adapting, morphing into the people that they become, always a little short of the people they aspire to be. The world, in all its cruelty and randomness, is constantly forcing them to bend and bend and bend until some break in two and others rebound even more forcefully.

Zadie Smith said that she wanted to write the first Black existential novel with "NW" but I think Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie may have written a much more devastating and illuminating one with "Americanah". If "NW" was existential in its stylistic experimentations, "Americanah" is existential in its very essence.

In the end, it could very well be that love, true passionate love between two people, is the only constant force flowing through the chaos.
Profile Image for Natalie.
567 reviews3,196 followers
October 20, 2020

“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

It's this opening quote that raised my intrigue by a tenfold on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. I've read (and reviewed in praise) her previous Nonfiction works (Dear Ijeawele & We Should All Be Feminists) so I knew Adichie to be an author with a compelling way of words, but all that paled in comparison to the character building she excels at exploring in this fictional work of art.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze 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.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

So, now comes the difficult part of trying to sum up my reading experience of this grandiose book. Which is also, coincidentally, the first lengthy book I’ve read in awhile, so I took my sweet time savoring its pages over the course of a week. And I’m glad I did because it gave me the chance to mull over my thoughts and feelings regarding Americanah.

“This was love, to be eager for tomorrow.”

First and foremost, how does the author succeed so seamlessly at fleshing out a side character even if they come to show only one time??? Time and again, I was dumbfounded at Adichie’s success in cultivating characters so full of life with a single page or two, sometimes needing only one paragraph. This is raw talent right here.

By introducing a new character that says something particular, she then gives background on why they would act that way. Like, Ifem meeting someone she catches keen on another’s affection:

“He was an impresario, well oiled and well practiced, the sort of man who did a good American accent and a good British accent, who knew what to say to foreigners, how to make foreigners comfortable, and who could easily get foreign grants for dubious projects. She wondered what he was like beneath that practiced layer.”

Or, Obinze’s catching Amara’s quick fix reminding everyone how she was wronged:

“Maybe he should go and find a Jamaican woman,” Amara said. Her husband had left her for a Jamaican woman, with whom it turned out he had a secret four-year-old child, and she somehow managed to veer every conversation towards the subject of Jamaicans.”

I’m a sucker for books full of eccentric and subtle quips on life, so Americanah fell prey to my immediate affection. However, this is also where my later issues with the book stem from since I came to depend on those familiar, detailed intimacies on everyday life to propel the book forward more than the actual storyline. My mind was on a never-ending wait for more noteworthy remarks to drop, instead of caring for any actual development in the plot.

It was also a bit of a bummer to learn that the most important person in Ifemelu’s life could not have made me feel more numb. Sitting through whole chapters from Obinze’s viewpoint left those parts of the book marred for me, as a result. His grown persona, lacking that quiet strength that made up the arc of his youth, didn’t work in his favor, as well.

It’s the stark contrast between the joy and quickness Ifem’s chapters provided, in comparison to the snail-paced reading I experienced with Obinze that staggered me.

There’s also a comment in here that rubbed me the wrong way, regarding antisemitism:

“Don’t say it’s just like antisemitism. It’s not. In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy—they are so clever, these Jews, they control everything, these Jews—and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy.”

Why is she essentially telling me to be grateful for antisemitism?? Opting for the wrong approach where they teach hundreds of little girls to take it like a compliment when boys use abuse to get attention??? I listened to a lecture recently on antisemitism and seeing a comment like the above to excuse this systematic form of oppression made me livid.

But I’ll hit a bit of a pause on the negatives to highlight my more cherished moments from the carefully-crafted story that is Americanah. I noted down so many quotes from this book that I had to open up a separate document in my notes for lines I highly wanted to include in my review so they wouldn’t be lost amid scouring my never-ending pages. I looked something like this writing everything down from excitement:

My favorite of those include:

• When this book expertly offers us an intimate look into Ifemelu’s young love with Obinze by including us in their private inside jokes that only those two get. Like, referring to him as “Ceiling” in public and making everyone wonder about the story behind it.

“Why do you call him Ceiling anyway?” his friend Okwudiba once asked her, on one of those languorous days after first semester exams. She had joined a group of his friends sitting around a filthy plastic table in a beer parlor off campus. She drank from her bottle of Maltina, swallowed, glanced at Obinze, and said, “Because he is so tall his head touches the ceiling, can’t you see?” Her deliberate slowness, the small smile that stretched her lips, made it clear that she wanted them to know that this was not why she called him Ceiling. And he was not tall. ”

• The amount of specificity the author offers to her characters astonished me time and again. To quote Ifem’s blog, she offers “Lagos from an Insider,” and there’s an unequivocal honesty to it.

“You lied.” It was said with a kind of horror that baffled her, as though he had never considered it possible that she could lie. She wanted to say, “Blaine, people lie.” But she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” He was looking at her as though she had reached in and torn away his innocence, and for a moment she hated him, this man who ate her apple cores and turned even that into something of a moral act.”

I can’t get over that last line. Blaine was one of the more interesting boyfriends of Ifem’s past. I liked, in particular, their initial encounter on the train the very same day Ifemelu drops her efforts at assimilating with faking an American accent.

“It was not in her nature to talk to strangers on public transportation—she would do it more often when she started her blog a few years later—but she talked and talked, perhaps because of the newness of her own voice. The more they talked, the more she told herself that this was no coincidence; there was a significance to her meeting this man on the day that she returned her voice to herself.”

Theirs was a fascinating dynamic that I loved seeing chronicled.

“So when are you going to have the next salon, Shan? I was telling Ifemelu about them.”
When Blaine had told Ifemelu about Shan calling her gatherings “salons,” he had underlined the word with mockery, but now he said it with an earnestly French pronunciation: sa-lon.”

The peak of intimacy arrives through these details that expand on domestic life; sharing a life together means you know their true, intimate thoughts, so that in outside situations you’re like, ummm, that’s not what you told me in private…

• On feeling stuck and unresolved in her relationship:

“But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her. She did not tell him this, because it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”

I read that last part twice to let its magnificent power sink in

“How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted? Blaine needed what she was unable to give and she needed what he was unable to give, and she grieved this, the loss of what could have been.”

• Sifting through Ifemelu’s past and playing this game of catch-up, there hits a certain moment when things start to feel exhausting and previous plot lines are forgotten (like, Ifem getting her hair braided in present day, which we keep returning to) in the process of reading this richly told story spanning three continents and numerous lives. And circling back to the present after being so caught up in the past is when my enthralment for the story usually goes down by a notch… That is until another noteworthy line gets dropped on us.

• Such as, the clapback delivered to Obinze at the hands of his wife, Kosi, after he confesses to his immature desires, left me feeling more empowered than the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl:

“It’s not about another woman, Obinze,” Kosi said, rising to her feet, her voice steeling, her eyes hardening. “It’s about keeping this family together! You took a vow before God. I took a vow before God. I am a good wife. We have a marriage. Do you think you can just destroy this family because your old girlfriend came into town? Do you know what it means to be a responsible father? You have a responsibility to that child downstairs! What you do today can ruin her life and make her damaged until the day she dies! And all because your old girlfriend came back from America? Because you have had acrobatic sex that reminded you of your time in university?”

I couldn’t have been more grateful to Kosi for saying what I always yell at men who want to leave their wives and families to satisfy some impulse.

Also: “acrobatic sex.” I C O N I C

I’ll leave this list of favorites on one last priceless moment because I’m this close to sharing the whole novel with you… I smiled at the below:

“It’s a cowardly, dishonest book. Have you read it?” Shan asked.
“I read a review,” Mirabelle said.
“That’s the problem. You read more about books than you read actual books.”

That is to say, I’m more than eager to discover the power of Adichie’s words in exploring her other books.


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Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,192 reviews1,816 followers
January 11, 2023

Tawny Chatmon

Qualcuno scoprì di essere ebreo “grazie” ai nazisti e ai suoi “volenterosi carnefici”.
Succede alla protagonista senegalese di questo romanzo – ma certo non solo a lei – di sentirsi “nera” quando arriva negli US.
Trattandosi di emigrata con titoli di studio– o forse per puro caso o forse per un colpo di fortuna - evita di scoprire d’essere oltre che nera anche “negra”.

All’inizio del romanzo sono già tredici anni che vive sulla east coast, o forse quindici, è pronta per tornare a Lagos: sarà il primo ritorno da quando se ne è andata! Potrà ancora chiamarla casa?

Tra le altre cose Lagos è la capitale di Nollywood, la seconda industria cinematografica del mondo, dopo quella indiana, ma prima di quella americana. Un mercato che vive soprattutto sul dvd, e di cui diversi titoli vengono girati in Italia. (Per la cronaca ai primi posti è tornata anche l’industria cinematografica italiana che produce ogni anno molti più titoli di quelli che raggiungono il pubblico.)
Ma Lagos con i suoi ventuno milioni di abitanti è anche la città più popolosa della Nigeria, nazione che ha sempre prodotto una nutrita emigrazione, paese tre volte più grande dell’Italia, con una popolazione maggiore della nostra di quasi quattro volte.

Tawny Chatmon

Prima di partire Ifemelu va dal parrucchiere (160 USD con lo sconto) a rifarsi le treccine, e durante questa lunga sessione di attività sul suo cuoio capelluto, Adichie innesta un lunghissimo racconto a ritroso (flashback): dall’infanzia della protagonista agli anni dell’adolescenza, gli studi al college, il primo amore, un grande amore, la partenza per gli Stati Uniti, le difficoltà dei primi mesi, dei primi anni, pochi soldi ma molti prestiti, lavori umili, lavori malpagati, lavori che sfuggono. Fino all’incontro con un altro amore, questa volta bianco e biondo, grazie al quale Ifemelu sfonda nel mondo della comunicazione e avvia un popolarissimo blog che sarà di successo anche economico. È partita, ha imparato, ha conquistato.
È l’epoca della prima campagna elettorale che portò alla prima elezione di Barack Obama: lui e sua moglie sono due modelli che fanno ben sperare la comunità afroamericano e i neri non afroamericani.
Compresi i mulatti.

Tawny Chatmon

Il racconto di Ifemelu è alternato a quello che descrive il suo primo grande amore, Obinze, dall’adolescenza attraverso i primi studi universitari: l’approdo in Inghilterra, anche se il suo sogno era sempre stata l’America; l’umiliazione di lavorare sotto falso nome in quanto clandestino dunque illegale; un matrimonio organizzato a caro prezzo solo per ottenere la cittadinanza, le manette, il carcere, il rimpatrio forzato… Dalla speranza alla sconfitta. Ma poi, dalla sconfitta al successo, ai soldi.
Obinze è il primo di una breve serie di uomini, sensibili, intelligenti, gentili e sexy, che Ifemelu attrae e conquista.
Come il blog di Ifemelu così il romanzo abbandona il tema “razza”, “neritudine”, tanto in Nigeria
la razza non funziona. Scendendo da quell’aereo a Lagos è come se avessi smesso di essere nera.
Deliziandomi con il suo originale punto di vista sulla sua terra, Adichie conclude concentrandosi sulla storia d’amore: lui e lei si rivedranno, è davvero un grande amore, l’amore è destinato a trionfare…?

Tawny Chatmon

Dopo i suoi primi due titoli - L’ibisco viola e Metà di un sole giallo - avevo lasciato la Adichie immersa nello stile terrario di quel continente (posso definirlo realismo-magico-africano?). E - sapendo che si era trasferita a vivere in occidente e scriveva ormai in inglese - avevo voglia di ritrovarla cambiata, “contaminata”.
Così è, infatti.
Se ricordo bene i due libri precedenti, la sottigliezza, le nuance si sono perse per strada. Ma ne ha guadagnato l’ironia, il piglio.
E forse entrambe le cose si devono alla scelta di questa protagonista, dinamica, giudicante, che spesso comunica la sensazione di sentirsi migliore, ma al contempo è onesta e sincera e sensibile, e io mi ritrovo dall’inizio alla fine a condividere ogni singola virgola dei suoi blog e di questo libro. E a tributarle con entusiasmo 4 stelle abbondanti.

Tawny Chatmon

In America il razzismo esiste ancora, ma non ci sono più i razzisti. I razzisti sono cose del passato. I razzisti sono i bianchi cattivi dalle labbra strette che si vedono nei film sull’era dei diritti civili. Ecco il punto: il modo di manifestarsi del razzismo è cambiato, ma la lingua no. Se non hai linciato nessuno, non puoi essere chiamato razzista. Se non sei un mostro succhiasangue, non puoi essere chiamato razzista. Qualcuno dovrebbe avere il coraggio di dire che i razzisti non sono dei mostri. Sono persone con famiglie amorevoli, gente normale che paga le tasse. Bisognerebbe dare a qualcuno il compito di decidere chi è razzista e chi no. O forse è ora di rottamare la parola razzista. Di trovare qualcosa di nuovo. Come, ad esempio, “sindrome da disordine razziale”. E potremmo avre gradazioni diverse per chi ne soffre: lieve, media e acuta.

Tawny Chatmon
Profile Image for Kinga.
479 reviews2,252 followers
September 11, 2020
Adichie and I seem to share sensibilities and I often mention her as one of my favourite authors, even if I often think she lets herself off too easily. Which is another thing we seem to have in common, as I tend to let myself off too easily too. What I mean by that is that I wanted more, let’s call it, ‘epicness’. Adichie is a wonderful writer and she can churn out a great book without really trying. I want to know what would happen if she really tried.

Americanah is really Race 101 and you would think America doesn’t need Race 101 because they should be doing AP courses by now. And yet, reading some of the reviews I was shocked to realise even this basic message went over some people’s heads.

Other than race and hair, this is really a story of love of two people who feel so real you almost want to be friends with them (and I know I never say anything about characters ‘likeability’, but I did like these people despite their flaws. I must say I was more involved with Obinze’s story – not because parts of it were more tragic, but because there was something raw about it. Maybe I just had a crush on the guy. Apart from Ifemelu and Obinze, the rest of the characters might seem a bit cardboard, her other boyfriends were ‘types’ more than people. But in a way that’s what we do in our memory. We reserve complex portraits for our true love and all the other old flames eventually get reduced to ‘the one whose mother hated me’, ‘the one who took his guitar everywhere, even the bathroom’, etc.

What Adichie excels at is the social observations, all those everyday scenes, strips of dialogue, that reveal so much about the topics that interest her, like immigrants and class. It was very interesting to read an immigrant story with the class aspect thrown into the mix. Immigrants usually exist outside of class (especially at first), they are in the class of their own, because the locals can’t tell where to place them – their accents are just foreign accents, their education usually means nothing and neither does their family background. When Ifemelu arrives in the US from Nigeria, her middle class identity is taken away from her and she is given a new one – that of a black person. From now, whether she likes it or not, it would be her first identity, anything else will come after that. This is mostly what this book is about.

It’s also about the usual immigrant woes – loneliness and disconnection. Even if you return you won’t be home, you’ve been changed and you’re destined to always miss something, some part of your life that is elsewhere. Trust me, I’m an immigrant.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
July 30, 2022
The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Anais Nin.

A novel about race and gender that every White in America should read. Adiche’s specialty is perceiving and portraying truth, that is otherwise shaded by everyday familiarity. Her observations as an outsider, a Nigerian immigrant, mixed with her mordant wit, are enlightening and jolting ... to the entire political spectrum of non-Black Americans, from the do-goodie white liberal to the raging white conservative. Just a couple of illustrative quotes:
“Race doesn't really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don't have that choice.”

“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.”
Ms. Adichie (who is, by the way, a stunning beauty) peppers her novel with this razor-sharp wit as she bespangles it with unique and shiny characters, mesmerizing the reader with eurhythmic dialogue and wringing the heart with a story of the protracted separation of young lovers into different cultures and the resulting moral dilemma many humans face, whether in reality, what-ifs or "I could see that happening to me."

Specifically, what if the amorous relationship appeared to one lover as kaput after years of waiting, but not to the other, and the former justifiably moves on, getting married and starting a family, only to have the latter return in hopes of resuming the bond where it was last left.

I know I'm late to the game on this novel. Nonetheless I'll say, for those later than me, I highly recommend this novel.
Profile Image for Giorgia Reads.
1,018 reviews2,085 followers
August 26, 2020
4.5 stars

Re-read (audio) 25/08/20

I'll start by saying that I loved this book!

There's so much there to unpack I wouldn't know where to start. I've followed Adichie for a while now, watched her interviews, read her thoughts on many things which she explores within her work. And I have to say, she is so eloquent, so clear, concise and persuasive in her arguments that it is really no surprise that she is an excellent writer as well.

What she said about this book is that ultimately she wrote a love story. (although most literary fiction writers shy away from that descriptor because somehow, in the eyes of the general population, the value of a story is lessened if it's not all a bunch of pseudo-intellectual drivel - which I find a lot of contemporary fiction to be)

She used that story in order to explore other issues such as race, feminism, inequality, the search for selfhood (identity), the many facets of familial and romantic relationships, the sacrifices we are willing to make in order to feel successful and how do you even quantify success after it's all been said and done...

To be completely honest, I could go on and on about this book and all the things that it touches upon, but I believe I have already made that point.

Now, when I read reviews which state that a book tackles a ton of issues, I am sceptical to say the least, because I've always been a big proponent of the well-known paradox of less is more.

In this case, however, the story is told in such a way that you can take what you want from it because we are not bombarded with these ideas, they are just sewn seamlessly into the fabric of the story.

My main take away from this book might be different from the next readers and that's probably why this is so well written. Whoever you are, you can probably identify to a certain extent.

If I were asked, I would definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,486 followers
March 13, 2023
UPDATE: Since I wrote this review, Adichie's come out as a transphobe. An author's shittiness does affect my enjoyment of their books, and I'm sorry to say I can no longer think of these works without also thinking of Adichie's bigotry. I've cleared my rating on this book and Megan Abbott has regained her throne as my favorite modern author. My original review follows.

There are two things you can do if you want to do something new about a novel: you can tell a story in a new way, or you can tell a new kind of story. If you don't have a new story you have to go for the first thing; then you end up with labels like postmodernism, which is fine but it tends to be yet another story by and about well-off white people, you know? Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with well-off white people, arguably, but they start to run together after a while. You look back on literature and who knows which is Dorothea and which Mrs. Dalloway? There are only so many new ways to tell the same old story. You find yourself dying to read about someone you haven't met yet. I mean, even if you're not a well-off white person, you can hardly avoid finding out exactly what they're like.

So I'm pretty into the second kind - new stories, about people and situations I'm not as familiar with. Which is not to say that I would like a new kind of story even if it weren't written as well as the old kind of story, but luckily that's not at all a danger because many, many people write stories and it turns out that there are brilliant stories about all kinds of things. Here, for example, is the best novel by the greatest writer of the century so far, and it's about people I don't know very well: Nigerian immigrants.

And you might say okay, the protagonist here is Nigerian but she comes all the way here and does what? She starts a blog, so aren't you just reading another story about a fucking blogger except this one has great hair? Okay, fair enough: turns out that no matter where you're from, if you like to write stories you're likely to have some things in common with everyone else who likes to write stories. Education. An interest in Graham Greene; an eye for weird details. Adichie has a wonderful eye: "She seemed like the kind of wealthy person who did not tip well," she says, and you're like oh yeah, I know that lady. Or, "This man who ate her apple cores and turned even that into something of a moral act."

The story, of a Nigerian woman (Ifemelu) who moves to America and finds herself and then moves back to Nigeria and finds more of herself, is something of a satire of both cultures, and it can be a little on the nose: a burger is "served in four pieces, arranged in a martini glass," and I've already heard that joke. But there's so much here that I haven't heard - about the experience of being a non-American black person in America, and about Nigeria, and for that matter about myself, I mean what I look like to people who are not like me. Here's what Americans look like:

- "She went bowling, and knew what Tobey Maguire was about, and found double-dipping gross."
- "They overused the word 'excited'" (also "wonderful", "blowhard", "trouper" and "asshole")
- "Back home, she would wash her underwear every night and hang it in a discreet corner of the bathroom. Now that she piled them up...and threw them into the washing machine on Friday evenings, she had come to see this, the heaping of dirty underwear, as normal."

And I'm like yes! It's true! I do know what Tobey Maguire is about! He's this well-off white person.

appendix a
Here are most of the books referenced, in case you're interested. They cover a wide range of black literature, and also Graham Greene. I don't think Adichie is necessarily a fan of all of them - Chase, Waugh, Achebe and Naipaul are shilled by other characters. I've starred the four books Ifimelu particularly loves; personal comments from me are italicized.
Ann Petry (the book you're looking for is The Street)
Gayl Jones (I think her most famous one is Corregidora)
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter*
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
VS Naipaul, A Bend in the River
Jean Toomer, Cane*
James Baldwin, esp. Go Tell It on the Mountain*
The novels of James Hadley Chase
Barack Obama Dreams from My Father*
The poetry of Derek Walcott (check out Omeros)
The poetry of Robert Hayden

appendix b
And here's a Spotify playlist of the three songs mentioned in the book. I don't know about you but when a book mentions a song I need to hear it. The Fela track is great (this is the one with the run-run-run chorus) but the other two are not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Lucy.
417 reviews626 followers
June 3, 2020

The only reason you say that race is not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think as myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”

Rounding this book up as it has constantly been on my mind since finishing it.

This book was a stunning piece of work and is much a story about star-crosses lovers over the years as well as race and culture.

This book follows Ifemelu and Obinze as they first meet as teenagers in Nigeria and fall in love, to their journey’s out of their disrupted lives (due to the political climate in Nigeria and it’s toll on the universities) to try and learn and gain new lives in the US and Britain.

While this had a compelling love story it was the discussion about Race on a globalised scale that really draws the reader in. We are witness to how difficult it is to first obtain the correct documents to travel legally to these countries; once there how people will treat you as different; exploitation; the difficulties of gaining employment as well as the huge issues surrounding race and culture and how these are experienced.

In this book it was interesting to see Ifemelu’s perspective of America from a non-American. It is especially interesting to see a cultural shock for this character. For example; being considered black among Americans where race is not considered in Nigeria; how it is normal for Nigerian parents to use some physical punishment to tame a child but not in America; how mental health is seen as a white American issue and not such a topic discussed in Nigeria.

This book also grapples so much with how these characters see themselves- their identities and how others perceive them. It also shows you how both characters grapple with their self identity.

Ifemelu is a rather famous blogger in this book and the blogs on race (which are placed throughout the book) made me consider things that I hadn’t always thought of before- especially with regards to the differences between African -Americans and Africans living in the USA, and their own differences and perspectives. One of the issues of Race that is still prevalent is that most makeup brands still only have one or two shades of black skin available for foundation to use; how natural black woman’s hair is seen as “unprofessional” in most work places; or how nude tights and plasters are not usually suitable for anyone with dark skin.

This books also details both Obinze and Ifemelu’s travels back to their home country. It is especially interesting from Ifemelu’s POV as she has become an “Americanah”. She has to deal with another cultural shock of coming back home after being away for so long- the heavy emphasis of marriage in Nigeria, whereas it wasn’t such a big deal in America. It’s also interesting to see the differences in customer service, food, and approaches to divorce in Nigeria.

Overall this book tackles and addresses so many important topics, especially around race and identity, but the book also includes a perseverance of love throughout the years.
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