Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I have been sitting on this review for a while. Writing it feels like being unfaithful in some way. Here goes: I was disappointed. I loved every single one of Chimamanda Ngozi’s books. A friend gave me a copy of Purple Hibiscus when it was first published, and since then I have read and re-read the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck; have sunk my teeth into Half of a Yellow Sun – eagerly waiting for its release now that Biyi Bandele has had the genius to make a movie of it; and like everyone else that is a fan of Adichie, I eagerly anticipated the release of Americanah – especially since it promised to also tackle that ‘hair issue’.
The protagonist Ifemelu is leaving the US after having lived there for thirteen years. The book explores Ifemelu’s life from her early years as a college undergraduate in the US, where she fakes it to fit in: the American accent, the straightened hair; then ditches it all, resorting to speaking with her Nigerian accent and to keeping her hair in its natural state. Adichie explores the lives of African emigrés living in the US; the discrimination they face from African-Americans; and the race politics which Adichie explores in the blog posts written by Ifemelu. This was the one thing I did not like about the book. The blog posts took up too much of the book, and took away from what could have been more writing on the issues that were raised. They were distracting and tedious, and I thought detracted from the flow of the book.
Adichie then takes the reader to Nigeria, where Ifemelu begins her new life. Here Adichie explores the problems that returning emigrés face – in the face of the culture shock of being returnees, the joy of not having to explain themselves in a country that their own, and the constant comparisons they make between the old life abroad and the new one at home – happy to be back, but still pining for what they left behind. Interwoven in all of this is a love story. Obinze was Ifemelu’s first love, and her return to Nigeria rekindles a relationship that ended without real closure thirteen years ago.
I enjoyed Americanah, but I think I should have read it without comparing it to the brilliance of her earlier books. It was entertaining, funny, and a really light-hearted take on recurring real debates in today’s world. I have always complained that African writers take themselves too seriously, where the depressing themes always take home the literature prizes, and the discourse always turns intellectual without leaving much room for fun. This is a fun book. Read it, but manage expectations if you are an Adichie fan.