Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

044889-FC2222013 is a defining year in my “reading life”. Why is that? Because in 2013, plenty of books are about immigrants – first and second generation.  I have been wondering for quite some time now, when we will get past writing about colonialism, neo-colonialism and write more about the daily lives of  Diaspora’s people or about contemporary issues. I always felt like they were so many stories waiting to be told. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed in that regard by Americanah. Just after reading Ghana Must Go and  How to read the air , I  was really looking forward to read this one.

I can’t wait to read and see  more of this types of books. America or Europe are not what people  think they are. When you are African, whatever you know about America you see on tV, well, TV is not reality! I am hoping that maybe these books will open the eyes of the people who stayed back. (Or maybe not!). Africans can be really stubborn about immigration. I want them to come prepare.

Every praise that I heard about this novel was justified (See my article on what people are saying about Americanah). And I, finally, understood why people were saying that this novel was about RACE and hair. Meanwhile, I still miss Ifemelu. How can this book be over! After 500 pages, I still want more. This is the power of Chimamanda’s storytelling. As Chinua Achebe rightly said :

she is blessed with the  gift of ancient storytelling…

But first, as usual, a word about the author.

About the author

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian-born author. She graduated from the Eastern Connecticut State University with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a Master’s degree in African Studies from Yale. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels. She has won several prizes for her two novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a yellow sun. She is also well-known for her speech about “the danger of  the single story” at TEDGlobal in 2009.

About the book

Here is the official except:

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 suffers 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, Obinze 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 returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

From a reader point of view, I would say the book is divided into three major parts ( technically the book has more than 7 parts) – the pre-immigration part, the immigration part and finally the Back-home part.

 Pre-Immigration part: Ifemelu in Nigeria

The first leg the story is happening in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are in high school. Their life is a pretty normal one. They both met and fell in love. Around their love story, a lot of things are happening in Nigeria.

Point Worth mentioning and believe me it was really hard to decide:

  • The Church and Africans: there is this strange relationship between Ifemelu’s mother and churches. She strongly believes that if she prays hard enough God will allow her to be rich. When that doesn’t happen quickly enough, she simply moves to another church. People are so desperate in some African countries, that they will believe anything  the so-called “Man of God” aka priests tell them. Meanwhile, the priest is getting richer and richer.
  • Young beautiful women vs Old rich men : Ifemelu’s aunt who came, from the village, to attend University met the General, as he is referred in the book, who became her “sponsor”. If you watch Nollywood movies, then you know what I am referring to. Young women sleeping with older man in exchange of money and financial security.  Because those men want to control their women, they give them just enough money to maintain their lifestyles. You will always have to come back to them for more. Sadly, the general died and she was left with nothing. Predictable!
  • Nigerian politics: During Ifemelu and Obinze high school years, Nigeria was under military rule. Every now and then, there is a coup or an attempted one in the book. That’s how the General got killed and left Ifemelu’s aunt with a child and nothing. If  you know your history, then you are aware that Nigeria has been under military rule for the best part of his 50-odd years of independence from Britain. The political situation got so bad at one point, that  people, who were able to, left the country.
  • 9/11 and African young men: One of the lesser known consequences of 9/11, was that all young men was considered suspicious, black or otherwise. This issue bereaved so many young Africans of a higher education abroad. We could call it discrimination but since it was done in the name of protecting american civilians, it makes it alright (for them of course!)
Immigration :Ifemelu’s in the US 

The novel started with Ifemelu going to do her hair, in an African saloon, for her trip back home. The hairdressers were from West Africa –  Senegal and  Guinea. If you have been to the US, then the first chapter of this novel is very familiar to you.

Here is what I  like or note  about this part:

  • Natural hair and saloon in America: Being natural has gone viral! Some peole do it for identity purposes, others for style. Even, I am rocking my ‘fro everywhere. The author has gone natural as well. So you will find natural hair tips here and there in this novel.
  •  Sisterhood of African Immigrants:  At one point of this story, the narrator actually points out to an instant bond between Ifemelu and Aicha, because they were both African Women. It is just beautiful, this link you share with other African migrants, wherever you are.
  • Black American for African: I love these little boxes at the end of some chapters. It was just brilliant. These are reflections on African-American by an African. On some of them, Ifemelu reflects on acculturation and blending, on being black in America, on racism, on poor black versus poor whites, hispanic versus black…
  • Other themes developed in the book: Bloggers earning money, black people and sunscreen, the upper middle class attitude toward black people, charity and the upper middle class, qualified African immigrants in America ( ex: doctors..), mixed couples, diaspora and the politics of their home country – they have strong opinions from afar – chasing the American dream, identity, suicide…

One think you should know is that I love everything about this book. Here  are the Things that threw me out of my chair:

  • American Tribalism: This one is the shocker. But when you think about it, she is so right. So here are the four tribes: Class (rich vs poor), Ideology (liberal vs conservatives) they think each other are evil, Region (north vs south) north look down on the south, south resents the north and Race (WASP, black and hispanic). 
  • The social ladder: WASP – white Anglo-Saxon protestant – always on the top,  Middle depends on place and time and American black – always on the bottom
After Immigration: Ifemelu back to Nigeria

In this part of the story, Ifemelu and Obinze are both back to Nigeria. They meet again and start an affair.

Some observations about Ifemelu’s time in Nigeria after her sojourn abroad:

  • Social pressure, Africa and marriage: It seems to Ifemelu, that  people was obsessed with marriage – Everyone. When are you getting married? Are you married? Don’t worry you will find someone? It was getting on my nerves and I was far away. Imagine!
  • Corruption and Rich Nigerian: Obinze is really wealthy at the end of the novel. How? I will let you read that. What is really funny is the way the rich Nigerian behave – It’s not different from other Africans, but I think Nigerians are richer –  latest cars, huge mansion, 5 phones, flying first class British Airways…
  • Marriage and African: How do African see marriage?  I find very interesting this statement made, by a friend of Obinze, at a party:

 Nobody marry the person he loves here, we marry the person that was available when we needed to marry….We are Africans we don’t divorce because of love…

Food for thought, Indeed!

I feel like every single African should read this book or at least read the section label “ Reflections on Black American by a non-black American”.  I definitely recommend Americanah. I really enjoy it. One thing I didn’t expect was how much I laugh reading it.

Chimamanda, you are my hero!


13 responses to “Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. Mary Okeke Reviews Avatar

    I think I am the only one who has not read this novel yet!


    1. Ndeye Sene Mbaye Avatar

      Really!! I have to confess that i buy it on the release day and start reading it the next minute. Lol..


  2. mdbrady Avatar

    Thanks for a great review. I hadn’t realized how much there was to about in it. I can’t wait to read it.


  3. Ndeye Sene Mbaye Avatar

    You can’t imagine how much more there is to this book, every theme that I mentionned is covered extensively by teh author. But my post was running long.


  4. readinpleasure Avatar

    Mary is not the only one, Ndeye. I’m so desperate to read this book. And now your in-depth and brilliant review has made it even more imperative 🙂


  5. nollywoodrave Avatar

    let me join the people who have not read it. I haven’t even heard of it til now. I hope i can find a copy around here somewhere. Thank’s for bringing it to light, i’ve been looking for good books for summer’s entertainment.
    Nice blog btw


  6. mdbrady Avatar

    I really like your point about how novels are changing. More Immigrant stories and many of them are not just about going to US, but about coming back to Africa. I think Adiche and Selasi are part of a new wave of novelists that write global, not national fiction.


  7. […] understand why the story of JoJo Badu was that fascinating to me. It, also, reminds me of Imefelu in Americanah and of Dr Sai in Ghana Must go. Same concept:  A particularly bright african who was given a […]


  8. alfiaj Avatar

    Thanks for the review and breaking down the structure of the story. I have yet to read it, but will start today (I think I was afraid of being TOO excited, as I have read all of her works twice :)). As an “African-American”, I do appreciate the perspective she gives and its place within the dialogue of those representing the African Diaspora. I think the beauty of the “Afropolitan” is that there are so many different experiences, perspectives, and stories to write.


  9. […] Under The Neem tree reviewed her two novels: Half of a yellow Sun and Americanah. […]


  10. Miranda Sanokho Avatar

    Now I wanna read this so bad. I’ve been putting off my “to read” pile but this book seems like an important read, one I will enjoy and learn from. Thank you for the review.


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