Americanah begins with two teenagers, Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love in Nigeria. Ifemelu takes the opportunity to immigrate to America in the midst of Nigeria's political unrest and reluctantly leaves Obinze behind. Years later, Obinze is a businessman and Ifemelu is a well-known blogger writing about racial issues from her perspective as an immigrant. Both have changed and reconnecting will prove harder than either expects.
The first thing I want to say is that this book is not at all what I expected it to be - in a good way. I initially thought “Oh hey, this will be a romance novel with some of Adichie’s experiences as an immigrant thrown in!” This is more like a fictionalized version of Adichie’s opinions on, well, everything. Most of these opinions took the form of Ifemelu’s thoughts or excerpts from her blog. And I loved it, but the style threw me off at first. So just know going in that there will be a lot of mini-lectures and Americanah will make more sense to you.
Americanah was pretty long but I got through it quickly, mainly because Adichie created really strong characters. Even the minor characters were solid. I liked Ifemelu's white boyfriend, Curt, and the genuine connection they shared. Blaine was okay, the best part of their relationship was watching them come together to support Obama. Obinze was my favorite overall.
Adichie made a strong argument for every issue she tackled, and so many times she put immigrant issues into a perspective most people have never really considered. I'm not an immigrant, so it was good to read something honest from the perspective of someone who has lived that hard life. Americanah, for that reason, is powerful.
My only critique is that I didn’t think the flashback structure was necessary. A strictly chronological timeline would’ve been just fine, since 99% of the book was told that way anyway. When it did hop back into the novel’s present day, I was distracted and it took away from the tensions in Ifemelu’s life.
Below are a couple quotes that stood out to me:
“And what’s a Magic Negro, you ask? The black man who is eternally wise and kind. He never reacts under great suffering, never gets angry, is never threatening. He always forgives all kinds of racist shit. He teaches the white person how to break down the sad but understandable prejudice in his heart. You see this man in many films. And Obama is straight from central casting.” (This wasn't meant as a diss toward Obama.)
“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion." (I hope I'm the kind of white liberal that people can show their anger around.)
There was one more quote I really loved, something about romantic love being an important key in eradicating racism in the future. I forgot to mark that one as I was reading, though, and I couldn’t find it later.
Rating: 4/5 - Some parts felt a bit redundant but overall this was a really strong novel.