Personal Reflections on: Adichie N. Chimamanda, Americanah, (London: Fourth Estate, 2013) pp. 477

****In Short, I will say Americanah is a tapestry of a disturbingly beautiful love story woven with so many threads of different colours that reflect the daily realities of life in a globalized world.

 As I was looking through my friends’ reading lists for 2013, I noticed a number of books that I might also read in 2014. One of these was Americanah by sweet bright Chimamanda. Although I had never read any of her books, I had read some of her articles on the Guardian and also listened to her talk on TED.  My friend likes her a lot and has praised her work to me a number of times. He referred to her in his provoking Guardian article. So during my Christmas holidays in South-Africa, I went to the Exclusive Book Store and picked Americanah determined to start reading it as soon as I finish the book that I was reading. The mistake was, I opened the first page of the book when I had resumed to work…and my wish for the next four days of work was to get home and read it. I didn’t bring the book to the office with me because I would have to sacrifice office hours reading it. This is how excellent the book is.  My dad asked me, what book are you reading now? I said…it’s a book, that if I were the Minister of Education, I’d make it a set book for Secondary School English literature syllabus.

The book is a fiction that captures so many mini stories depicting many aspects of realities in people’s daily lives. It crosscuts through city life, village life, developed world lifestyles and developing world lifestyles. She is capturing globalization in a mastery literary style. It is set in three continents – a really big plus! Upon reflecting the book (am not attempting to do any comparison here or something of the sort), I thought of a book my dad bought for me about ten years ago- the Lexus and the Olive Tree– I really cant remember the details of that book, but it’s title just made a lot more sense in the Americanah.  The book connects the modernity with traditions or rather brings globalization to the reality of our daily lives.  To understand globalization, one has to simply read Americanah before dealing with difficult academic explanations to it.

There is a huge focus on issues of race, perfectly portrayed by a considerable number of pages devoted to explain the blogging career of Ifemelu and some of the Raceteenth posts. However, thinking of the book as mainly about race is to see a narrow picture of it.  In this beautiful but disturbing love story of Ifemelu and Obinze,  Chimamanda has managed to bring into the picture single motherhood, culture, tribalism immigration,  divorce, poverty, religion, language, academia, and business. The book is like a tapestry woven with so many threads of different colours that reflect the daily realities of life.

May be out of my own faith/cultural reservations, there are a number of things that I didn’t like in the book. First, I didn’t like how the story ended- Obinze divorcing his wife, who had not done anything wrong.  Although it can be argued that falling out of love is a perfect reason to divorce, I still think it’s unfair and more than anything I’m a bit worried about the implication of such stories in African literature that we encourage our children to read…or is it the reality of globalization? – The infusion of ‘global (western)’ culture in Africa? Second, she narrated stories about girls dating rich married men for material purposes. Although we saw how bad things turned for Aunty Uju when The General died, it was still not scary. Other similar cases seemed ok to the end such as Ranyinudo’s. Even Ifemelu re-started her love-relationship again with Obinze while he was married leading to divorce. I think Chimamanda should have been more careful and go beyond to show negative consequences….  Third, I think the novel will relate more to the emerging middle class group in Africa and not to other groups in African society- may be this is a credit  (on the other side) as discourse on the emerging middle class is now trending and in need of more debates. But not every person in Africa can easily relate to it.

All in all, the novel is a masterpiece and reflects a reality on the ground. I kept laughing and sharing so many scene stories with my sister on the phone because I could relate to them and knew that my sister will understand the stories and why am laughing.

If you have time, please read this book…it’s a classic, easy read, and enjoyable novel.

****Best Characters (the ones I love most apart from the main characters)- Iloba, Emenike, Dike,  and Boubacar

Article written by

7 Responses

  1. Siya
    Siya at | | Reply

    Just read the book! Enjoyed reading your review as well, but not sure about having it adopted as literature in secondary schools.. :). This richly written book is indeed a masterpiece with a lot of humor in it! I encourage everyone to read it..

    1. Aikande
      Aikande at | | Reply

      Thanks Siya for this comment…we will talk more about the book when we meet…who was your favourite character?

  2. Nico Minde Deco (@decolanga)
    Nico Minde Deco (@decolanga) at | | Reply

    I promised to contribute. Aikande, this book is a masterpiece. Gripping, and a well nuanced love story. I really enjoyed reading this book mostly Ifemelu’s blog posting. Why am I tempted to think Chimamanda could actually be Ifemelu? I however feel Obinze story should have been further told especially how he made it when he was deported back to Nigeria! I also like the way Chimamanda touched on Nigerian stereotypes, I can relate to them since I have lived with plenty of Nigerians. My mentor and research supervisor is Nigerian. I will buy and reas Purple Hibiscus next.

  3. “War is Ugly”… as Chimamanda’s father, Prof. Adichie would say! Reflections on: Adichie Chimamanda, Half of a Yellow Sun, (London: Fourth Estate, 2009) pp. 433 | Aikande Kwayu

    […] I reflected on Americanah in January, I used the word ‘tapestry’ to describe my understanding of the story. For this reason, I’ve […]

  4. Kerry Woodcock
    Kerry Woodcock at | | Reply

    Aikande: Thank you. It is you who directed me to ‘Americanah’. I had already heard Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on ‘The Danger of One Story’, but had not connected the two. So last Sunday I finally sat down with the book. It’s been hard to work this week, knowing that the many stories still sat there inside the book awaiting to be explored! I finally finished last night, and know that I will be walking around with the characters for many more weeks, if not months, and years.

    I loved the depth of observation, the humour, the ‘realness’ of Ifemelu as a character. The ‘realness’ I speak to, is something about the female character not always acting super ‘nice’ or ‘lady-like’, or doing the ‘right thing’. And although I understand that as in life, the characters in books don’t always do what we want them to do, I wouldn’t wish for a writer to hold back on that, and sanitize what their characters ultimately choose to do, or feel that they have to make their characters be role models for our children. Rather I hope that fiction and stories, give us a place to experience not only what we know and choose, but also what we may never choose or do or hope for for our children. Fiction is a safe place to explore, I hope – yet I agree with Adichie in the ‘danger of one story’, so would hope to hear many voices and many stories.

    With this in mind, I both agree and disagree with the character Ifemelu’s (and perhaps Adichie’s) views on what she wants to hear of the stories of white people and the impact of rank, power, and privilege on them. Full disclosure: I am British, white, female, lower middle class (I think…) and have lived away from my homeland for more years than I have lived in it. Yes – it is not the same – AND we all need to learn to really hear others’ stories and experiences BEFORE sharing our own. And there’s power through the learning in stepping into and SHARING those parts of us that can feel and have experienced something similar – perhaps not as severe in scale and depth as someone else – but still allowing the ‘other’ to have experienced and share something of the ‘same’. Here’s to hearing all the voices!

  5. david ulaeto
    david ulaeto at | | Reply

    Hello Aikande. I was given americanna as a project topic to discuss globalization but I do not have much ideas of globalization in the novel. I would really love you to shed more light on globalisation in the novel. Tanks

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply