Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Americanah is a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Finished on: 31.5.2020

Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love in high school in Nigeria. But after Ifemelu left to go to college in the USA, they fell out of touch. Fifteen years later, Ifemelu is ready to return home, despite the fact that she has a successful blog about race relations in the USA, a settled life and a nice boyfriend. As she prepares for her return, she also reconnects with Obinze who spent some time in the UK and has since become a rich man in Nigeria.

Americanah is an interesting novel with sharp observations that I nevertheless struggled with. It is definitely insightful about race, but the story just didn’t come together for me.

The book cover showing colorful triangles on a blue striped background.

Americanah is a good primer if you haven’t thought much about race yet, especially about Blackness. I think there is a lot to unpack here that will open your eyes to many things. Now I am a white European, I definitely don’t claim to be an expert on race, but I am trying to educate myself and I have to say that I didn’t find that much new in that regard in the novel. I definitely appreciated the pointed way Adichie boils it down, though.

What was new to me and what I’m still thinking over was Ifemelu’s assurance that she was never aware of her race until she left Nigeria. It was only in the USA that she experienced racism. At the same time, the novel acknowledges colorism in Nigeria, where lighter skin is valued more and I struggle with the apparently absolute separation of colorism and racism. I am also wondering about that assertion because they don’t align with my own experiences in Africa. I was not in Nigeria, so of course, this has to be taken with a grain of salt or three, but I definitely saw racism in the DR Congo where I lived for a while. For example, I was offered a high position in a company (by a black guy) just because I am white.

But that really is only a small thread of a big novel. And especially when the novel tackles racism in the USA and the UK, it is really spot-on (from what I can judge). The bigger problem for me was that I just didn’t get into the story all that much. It took me what felt like forever to read the book because it just never developed that pull that you usually get from a good story. It never really drew me in. I don’t know why because I liked both Ifemelu and Obinze and I was generally interested in what happened to them, although the romance between left me rather cold.

That the novel dragged on for me did make me wish that I could just read Ifemelu’s blog instead. Some of her blog entries are featured in the novel and they are really good to read, and they kind of cut to the chase to some of the novel’s most important points. Still, it was definitely a book more than good enough that I didn’t ever consider not finishing it, and I’d say that it was still worth finishing. I just can’t be all that excited about it.

Summarizing: despite my issues here, it’s definitely recommended.

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