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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In Nigerian slang, the term americanah is used to describe a native citizen who has gone away to live in the United States for a period of time before emigrating back to Nigeria. The affected airs and altered attitudes of these returning sons and daughters are a source of both amusement and frustration for their countrymen who never left. This becomes a perfect framing device for the novel Americanah, in which Chimamanda Adichie gives us the saga of Ifemelu and Obinze, young lovers who meet in Lagos but find they must leave their homeland so as to further their educations and careers.

However, the two have very different experiences abroad. Ifemelu goes to college in America and she eventually integrates into society as a successful blogger on issues of race and culture. Obinze cannot get a visa for the U.S., so he ends up in England living underground for years before being deported back to Nigeria. Through it all, they lose touch—despite frequently thinking about each other—and they do not reconnect until Ifemelu decides to move back home to Africa. The book ends with the poignant details of their bittersweet reunion so many years after their love affair began.

When I find myself really enjoying a work of fiction, it is usually for one of two reasons. First, the story being told may be really interesting, with complex and relatable characters involved in relations that I come to care about. Second, the book might explore topics that teach me something I did not know or provide insights that help me change the way I see the world. Rarely does a novel accomplish both things, but Americanah did. Certainly, I found the multi-decade connection between Ifemelu and Obinze to be a compelling foundation for the novel, even though neither character was completely blameless when things went wrong or altogether worthy of the outcome they both desired.

The real impact that this book had on me, however, came from the message it delivers. Without question, this story offers a rather direct examination of modern-day racial issues, as well as an unvarnished look at what it means to be an immigrant. Unlike other contemporary authors who cover similar ground, the interesting angle that Adichie creates is to have her heroine come to the United States from Africa—where she never considered herself to be black—and comment through her blog on the differences between being American black, non-American black, white, or any other color. Ifemelu and Obinze both spend much of the story torn between two cultural identities and their respective journeys are fascinating and enlightening to observe. For me, this is both an important and an entertaining book that was a pleasure to read. ( )
  browner56 | Apr 12, 2019 |
A fascinating perspective and a worthwhile read, but this is one of those books wherein I find each individual page quite engrossing but there are simply too many of them. ("Too many notes!") My favorite parts were the blog entries, and their conciseness shows how powerful the author can be when she is focused. But this book got mired in the domestic drama as so many digressions piled up, dozens and dozens of characters with only one or two character traits were introduced, and way too many dinner parties were held. ( )
1 vote villemezbrown | Apr 10, 2019 |
Great book; It raises the question of skin color and racism without inhibitions and political correctness. The plot takes place in Nigeria, England, and the United States, where the heroes are academic graduates seeking their future in the world and the realization of their dream to be meaningful and not influenced by the color of their skin. ( )
  AmandaParker | Mar 7, 2019 |
Ehhh... Definitely not as hard-hitting as her other work. At times it reads more like a blog post or an opinion piece with characters stuck in, and Obinze's POV does not add much to the story. That being said, Adichie really gets to show how funny she can be in this book. ( )
  doryfish | Mar 6, 2019 |
My first Adichie, and now I want to read her earlier work soon.

Ifemelu and Obinzie are young, in love, and have a lot of hope. They both want to go from Nigeria to America for college. Ifemelu gets a visa--but Obinze can't, as a young man from Nigeria he is "a security risk". She goes, he instead overstays a visa in England, working illegally.

In America Ifemelu learns she is "black"--and she has to learn to navigate the worlds of whites, African-Americans, and immigrants. She cuts contact with Obinze, as she struggles to find work and eat. And she does, and she gets comfortable, but never completely comfortable. She blogs about her experiences, and the blog becomes her best job and main source of income.

Obinze, meanwhile, makes few friends in England, and grows frustrated with some that he had known in Nigeria. And then he is deported. Back in Nigeria he manages to make himself a rich man, he marries, has a daughter, and is a successful man of the new Nigeria.

Ifemelu decides to go home. And upon arriving, finds she no longer fits in. She has become an Americanah. ( )
  Dreesie | Jan 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
The stories have shifted, too. Nowadays, there’s little angsting about national identity in a post-colonial context or, for that matter, over catastrophe and want. Instead, a bevy of young Africans are shaping the future of fiction, reportage and critique on their continent, and perhaps well beyond.

“It’s beyond an evolution — it’s a revolution,” says Nigerian-American Ikhide Ikheloa, a critic and prominent observer of the scene.

It may have begun in 2003, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was published — and not just by an American publisher but by a Nigerian one, too. By now, Adichie is the still-young doyenne of the contemporary African lit scene. Her recent novel, Americanah, found a perch on the New York Times list of top 10 novels of 2013 — just weeks before Beyoncé sampled one of Adichie’s TED talks on her new album.

Read more: Printed in Africa | Fast forward | OZY
added by elwetritsche | editOzy, Pooja Bhatia (Jan 31, 2014)
But what makes the book such a good read—despite an anticlimactic ending—is that it's not meant as a cultural criticism, but more as a series of rich observations.
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, Mark Lopez (Jul 4, 2013)
“Americanah” examines blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain, but it’s also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience — a platitude made fresh by the accuracy of Adichie’s observations.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, MIKE PEED (Jun 7, 2013)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andoh, AdjoaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weintraub, AbbyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is for our next generation, nda na-abia n'iru: Toks, Chisom, Amaka,

Chinedum, Kamsiyonna and Arinze

For my wonderful father in this, his eightieth year

And, as always, for Ivara.
First words
Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and Ifemelu like the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately shops and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.
...her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.
How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined.
She was taking two sides at once, to please everyone; she always chose peace over truth, was always eager to conform.
She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.
She liked how he wore their relationship so boldly, like a brightly colored shirt. Sometimes she worried that she was too happy. She would sink into moodiness, and snap at Obinze, or be distant. And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping its wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away.
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As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu - beautiful, self-assured - departs for America to study. She experiences defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race.

Obinze - the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor - had hoped to join her, but post 9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Years later, he is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu decides to return home, she and Obinze will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
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A young woman from Nigeria leaves behind her home and her first love to start a new life in America, only to find her dreams are not all she expected.

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