From her home in Nigeria to her new, unfamiliar home in America, Ifemelu examines what it means to be black from all perspectives and with the help of a cast of characters experiencing their own personal reckonings.
Americanah has been sitting on my shelf, staring me down every time I pick up a shiny new book for roughly a year now. Constantly it’s recommended to me, even by myself after I read Adichie’s Everyone Should be a Feminist, but still I denied it. I was worried it would tear my heart out with writings on the terror immigration often involves or perhaps that it would be a dense monologue I would find hard to connect with. None of these are good reasons not to read something, but they are most certainly the reasons I didn’t pick it up sooner.
But, I finally did. And, to no one’s surprise, it is a beautiful piece of fiction that handles challenging topics from blackness to immigration and from love to social norms with grace, intelligence, and perspective. Following Ifemelu’s journey from her home in Nigeria to new territory in America was such an experience to read. It was as if I, myself was making the trip, trying to Americanize, struggling to fit in, and eventually deciding not to. Our main character is strong-willed, sometimes to a fault, and completely empowered to speak her mind. This trait shows itself in the earliest days of Ifemelu. As a young student, she often considers whether she speaks her mind too much. Will boys not like her because of her contrariness? As her life progresses and she grows, this outspoken nature develops to the point where she no longer questions herself and is using that voice to write a highly successful, anonymous blog about her everyday experiences with race, class, and gender in America. I loved this transformation and I think we can all hope to experience a similar growth into oneself.
Particularly poignant in Americanah is Ifemelu’s social experiences in America and, eventually, her experiences in Nigeria. All around her in the United States are over-excited white, American characters who make odd comments, say outspokenly racist yet socially acceptable things, and are over-taken by positivity. The character’s commentary on all of these things were often eye-opening to me, since I have never been able to extract myself from my birthplace in quite that way. After Ifemelu’s 13-year residency in America, she makes the choice to move back to Nigeria, and her observations start all over again, this time facing the people she grew up with and the country she now sees in a different light.
I could go on all day about this book, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll just say if you are like me and this book has been sitting on your shelf for months or years unread, go ahead and pick it up.
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Anchor Press; 588 pg; March 4, 2014. 978-0307455925. Fiction -> World Lit -> Africa
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