I expected a lot of this book and I must say I was not disappointed. It was one of those books that touch on difficult topic, then dive deeper and still the story is not hurt by this and they’re still a fantastic read for the story itself.
The book tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, their relationship and their lives after it, how they had to leave their country, fight for themselves abroad. How suddenly they became foreigners, immigrants, how race and gender suddenly came to play.
The story is not recounted in chronological order, the order is driven by emotions.
Ifemelu and Obinze were a happy couple in college, but because of political situation in Nigeria the universities were on strike for extended periods of time. At some point Ifemelu decides to join Aunty Uju in US, to finish her studies. Obinze supports her all the way, their plan is that he’ll graduate in Nigeria and join her in US (going to US is actually his long time dream not hers). For various reasons this never happens, Ifemelu built her life in US on her own.
I must say Ifemelu’s voice sounds loud and clear form the book, she is opinionated and not afraid to speak up, which more than once gets her in trouble. She is even more frank in her blog posts, engagingly written, sharply observed and a writer’s device used with grace by Adichie, she managed to keep the balance between the story and posts, using the posts to accentuate her more sharp observations.
I loved her observations on being an immigrant, on the cultural differences etc., so many of them sound familiar.
Another thing she sharply notices is how US society treats women, how they fight their battles to get their place in society. She describes so many women in various situations and is sympathetic to all of them.
Another aspect (the main point for many people) is race. It is very important in the book and Adichie observations are sharp and unforgiving (as they should be), but this was not the aspect of the book that moved me, I agree with it, admire it even but I don’t feel it to that extent, which is probably why it didn’t move me as much as other aspects of the book did. For me personally this was not the main point, I connected a lot more to the feeling of being foreign, different purely because one is an immigrant. To be perceived at the same time as a threat and as someone a bit worse that should be grateful for being such a great country as US or UK. For me in this book race was just one component in an exhaustive catalogue of reasons for discrimination.
I could also feel for Obinze side of the story, being from a middle-class family myself. I moved to UK because I got a better job, but what happened to him could just as easily has happened to me, this reality check of ‘but I was a student in my country, from a well off home’ and yet ‘here I am cleaning toilets’. I was just lucky and I do appreciate it.
The other thing that made me think is when Ifemelu comes back to Nigeria, her realization that she doesn’t fully belong in US, but she also doesn’t fully belong in her home country anymore, she is an Americanah. She was able to deal with it by staying faithful to her convictions of what’s right and wrong (she does seem to be a tiny bit strong headed sometimes ;)). But this position of not completely belonging anywhere is something I wished was explored with equal sensitivity and depth as the ‘foreignness’ in the first part of the book.
At some point I felt like Ifemelu decided her personality will have to be her only home. That’s why she becomes stubborn, never compromising, looking out for herself, because life taught her she is all she has.
‘Americanah’ is also a book about women, their various stories and multitude of ways in which they are discriminated against, they are dependent on other people and they fight for themselves.
Just to name few women stories she describes we have Aunty Uju, she was a lover of Nigerian general and when he died she had to take their child and flee the country, to run from revenge of the widow. In US she hits this wall of foreignness, the same one that Ifemelu hits when she comes there, yet Uju is not able to prepare Ifem for this or to give her much support, because she still has to work several jobs and study got get her medical diploma honored in US. Uju is the closest Ifem has to a family, but she cannot accept the fact that Uju’s first instinct is to find a man and stick to him, even if he doesn’t care for her son. It takes Uju years to free herself of Barthlomew, and when she does it’s as if she has become an Americanah, she abandons the dependency on men she had until then and is ready to stand on her own feet.
Another one is Aisha, who braids Ifemelu’s hair before she goes home. Aisha is yet another woman dependent on man, in this case for their green card.
Shan, sister of one of Ifemelu’s boyfriends on one hand seems to be a different case, she is strong, she hosts salons, writes books and is not afraid to have an opinion on everything, and yet she is completely dependent on the attention she gets and she is a real professional in getting it, even if it’s by hurting other people.
It was a book that touched a lot of topics I could identify with, at the same time it is a great story that is difficult to stop reading. The only thing I found a bit underwhelming was the end, but that’s just me being a cynic with a black heart. It is a book which moved me more on intellectual level than emotionally.
What surprised me was that talking about all those painful topics this book is a surprisingly easy read, a book that I didn’t want to put down.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska