Americanah is a sprawling heart-wrenching love-story told across three countries: Nigeria, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. It’s intense yet warm, honest yet subtle, mixing a range of subjects from racism and hair to religion.
The story is told through the lenses of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young high school sweethearts and wraps around their journey to self discovery as they mature to adulthood. Ifemelu is the central character, though not a very likable one and her story is told via flashbacks. Thus, the past is recounted, sandwiched between the present. The plot is very ingenious.
Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love while in high school. Ifemelu later leaves for America for her college degree. She babysits her aunt’s child and keeps in touch with Obinze while waiting for college resumption. When she resumes, she struggles initially with the difference between the educational system in Nigeria and America. She is intrigued with the cordial relationship between the lecturers and the students even in the classroom. “That is nonsense” The firm voice again “A voice unafraid “If my mother hits me with a stick, it’s not the same thing”. Ifemelu looked at Professor Moore to see how the word `nonsense’ had been taken.
Away from home, Ifemelu encounters racism and shares her experiences with the world via her anonymous blog Raceteenth which quickly gains popularity in America. Her relationship with Obinze fizzles out and they grow apart. She moves from man to man, not fully satisfied, longing for something she can’t have. Eventually, she moves back to Nigeria.
Back in Nigeria, she finds it hard to believe that she had gotten used to America as she had unconsciously tried not to. Obinze on the other hand never truly gets over ifemelu. He travels to London after being denied entry into America and is later deported. He ironically gets wealthy in Nigeria. He decides to marry Kosi, a very beautiful woman and they have a daughter together. Years later, when Ifemelu eventually returns to Nigeria, their paths cross again and Obinze ends up leaving his wife for her.
Americanah is a bold tale, fearless, brave. Adichie has quite the knack of creating totally realistic characters that jump at you. The manner in which she handles controversial issues amicably is amazing. Yet, the book is not soft, it is very honest and tethers on the brink of tough. Adichie writes superbly with a critical attention to details and there is so much humour, easy to miss though, if you do not relate with the story.
At times, I felt that the strong opinions on the black/white racial prejudice and excerpts from the blog almost overshadowed Adichie’s storytelling. But, how could so much be crammed into a book without it tending towards seeming very serious?
This is a book that I recommend heartily! Yet, the aspiring reader must be ready to feel a little bit flustered and full of questions after putting down the book.