By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
477 pages, $9.71
Reviewed by Deanna Saah
Americanah is an insightful and enlightening book by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie was born in Enugu, Nigeria and is the fifth out of six children. She gave a well-known TED talk titled “We Should All Be Femenists,” which discussed the problems of gender roles and a part of the talk was featured in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless”. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), was very popular when it was published and her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), was adapted into a movie. She has been nominated for many awards including the Orange Prize. She left Nigeria when she was 19 where she briefly studied communications and political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia and then transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University where she graduated summa cum laude in 2001. She was also a Hodder Fellow at Princeton from 2005-2006. She received her master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 and another one in African studies at Yale University in 2008. Adichie’s experience with living in some of these places has been inspiration for the setting of the novel. The book focuses on racism in American culture and is about Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman, who moves to the United States to study at Princeton. The book follows Ifemelu’s transition in America and the racism she encounters which causes her to change and break up with her boyfriend, Obinze, who also experiences racism when he is in England and the struggles he faces as an illegal immigrant.
She also sees how her aunt has transitioned into the American culture and the new views she possesses along with how her aunt’s son, Dike, faces the struggles of growing up in the American culture. Ifemelu has a hard time transitioning into this new culture since she is not familiar with it but also because of the prejudice she faces because of society’s preconceived ideas and definitions towards a group of people. She sees how people she knows, like her aunt, have changed through their appearance, attitude, and beliefs. The audience sees how Ifemelu assimilates into the American culture too-she perfects the American accent and changes her hair-so she can be accepted by society’s preconceived ideas and not judged based on her appearance and attributes. Obinze has a hard time in England as well since he is an illegal immigrant and must take on a new identity to work low-income jobs to support himself. He tries to get a green-card by marrying a woman he does not know but is caught and sent back to Nigeria. He eventually becomes wealthy by selling real estate in Nigeria and gets married but he reconnects with Ifemelu when she returns. Adichie sheds light on how the characters deal with racism and how prevalent it is even though some people making these comments may not realize what they are saying or doing. The feelings of the characters in the book convey how some, if not all, immigrants feel when they go to a new country where they are seen as less than because of the color of their skin and the prejudice they encounter because of society’s view of people who do not fit its expectations and definitions. The author’s experiences from her life make this book credible because she has firsthand experience on the matter and also allows people of color to resonate with her.
Throughout the novel, Adichie details the hardships each character goes through and the racism they experience. Americanah conveys the struggles of a Nigerian in American culture and society’s ignorant ideas about people of color, most importantly, who are from another country. The ignorance that is portrayed allows readers who are not the minority see how a small comment, which may not sound like a big deal, actually is and how it can oppress an entire race. Readers are also able to see how this ignorance makes someone look which then conveys that there is a real problem with preconceived ideas that are taught to them growing up. This ignorance is taught and learned; people are not born racist. It also makes them aware of white privilege in society and how this is an issue because it makes it seem like one race is better than the other which it is not. The audience can see the issue of how people perceive other cultures due to society’s ideas and because of this, it is detrimental to an entire race and group of people who are not the definition of these stereotypes.
Americanah is a book that is real and truthful. It opened my eyes to how one feels when they are oppressed and the racism that is prevalent in everyday speech. It made me question myself and think about if I made any comments about someone was racist and how that would make them feel. Adichie is able to reach everyone-those who can relate to the characters’ struggles and those who are not the minority which can allow them think about their actions and the racism that is very prevalent in society. Adichie’s diction and details of each character’s background and qualities about them made the book interesting and flow well. The story is interesting and from the beginning I knew it was going to be a good book because of the way it is written. It has a good message by talking about the topic of racism which is still a big issue today. Right now, the movement Black Lives Matter shows the injustice towards people of color by pointing out racism in society. Even though we have changed a lot compared to 50 years ago, there is still prejudice towards people of color and the only way to fix this is to point out these injustices. Adichie points out these injustices by talking about racism and succeeds at this by her impressive writing style which makes the book hard to put down and every reader who picks up this book will not be disappointed.