Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahFirst off, can I say that Adichie is actually featured on a Beyoncé track?  How cool is that?  I mean, Adichie is a fantastic writer on her own merits and definitely didn't need Beyoncé to be taken seriously as a writer, but still.  Pretty cool.  (The feature, if anyone is interested, is an excerpt of a speech Adichie gave about why everyone should be feminists.)

I've read all of Adichie's other works and really loved them, and was thrilled to finally get my hands on Americanah, which was checked out at the library pretty much since it came out.  Let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.  It spans oceans and years, following the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who fell in love in secondary school, and where their lives take them.  When the book opens, Ifemelu is living in Princeton, and is preparing to move back to Lagos in Nigeria.  Obinze is married and living in Lagos.  The bulk of the book is the story of how these two got to where they are, being a series of flashbacks that aren't necessarily in sequential order.  The book was ever so slightly out of balance in that the beginning and middle kind of outweighed the end, length-wise, but of course that's not a deal breaker.  Adichie can write an absolutely stunning drama, and Americanah was no exception.  Her characters are terribly, tragically real.  They do things that they regret and they have very real, very human flaws that make them unlikeable at points, but you can never really stop rooting for them because you know them so well and want them to succeed.  Their transformations across the years as they age and mature are also startling, something which becomes very apparent when Ifemelu eventually returns to Nigeria as an "Americanah," someone who's spent time in America an has been changed by it.  Also, her handling of setting is phenomenal.  I've never been most of the places Adichie writes about (the only one I've seen myself is Baltimore) and yet I can really picture them through her magnificent prose.

One feature I found very interesting was Ifemelu's profession as a blogger--though I did find it a bit unrealistic how quickly she gained followers.  While she has several other jobs throughout the book, her ultimate calling is apparently blogging, and she runs a blog full of her own observation on black Americans through the eyes of a non-American black.  Let me tell you, there are some real stingers about how Americans view race and how deeply ingrained it is in our society, but they were well-thought out and succinct rather than offensive--though I find it easy to believe that some people would find them offensive.  She's blunt, but honest, and that's marvelously refreshing.  I do know that novels are hardly ever biographical, but at the same time I'm forced to wonder how much came from Adichie's own experiences, just because of how poignant some of the happenings here are.  Overall, it's a truly stunning book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves good literature and good drama.

Also, kudos to her publisher for having such a lovely cover and not just plastering on a picture of a sunset and an acacia tree.

5 stars out of 5.

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