Thursday 10 May 2018
Review by Elle Morgan of "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Do you like Childish Gambino's new song, This is America? If so, read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book, Americanah. It discusses racial identity in America. Actually, read all of her books. Cover to cover.
Americanah starts off narrated by Ifemelu, who is a Nigerian woman living in America. She has received a Fellowship from the University of Princeton, lived there for years, and is in a loving relationship with a 'black American' (note that Chimamanda distinguishes between the African students who travel on a visa in the novel, and the African-American citizens’ experience since birth).
In spite of all this, she still has to travel a long distance to get her hair braided. On the way, she notes that the majority of people getting off at Brooklyn are black, while the people at the Manhattan train stations are white. This is a discomforting experience for Ifemelu, who has worked hard to get to where she is, and left her home country as a young woman to stay with her Aunty, whose experience of America turned her 'prickly'. Ifem finds some fellow African women discomforted by her intellectual pursuits. It’s as much about the politics of America as it is Africa.
Ifemelu left military-occupied Nigeria years ago, in pursuit of her education. Why is this strong, feminist woman, settled and content in the U.S., returning?
Because America creates just as many barriers as it does tickets, it seems. This is a story about womanhood, in relation to cultural identity. Ifemelu navigates awkward encounters with women at the hair salon who ask why she wishes to return to Nigeria. Is it because of a man? It must be because of a man. Is it because the men in her family have money? The men in her family must have money.
Ifemelu is in fact a self-made woman, and her journey through education is a heartening one to read. She does, however, face issues with identity, missing home, and missing the love of her life, Obinze, who she parted from years before - but Ifemelu never loses her independent nature. In contrast, Obinze's wife is suffering from her own neuroticism, to the point where she won't invite single friends over in case they threaten her marriage. There is a sadness to this story, in regards to what might have been, and what could happen, or may not - I won't spoil the book, anyway.
Ifem is a heroine most would love to know, picking up on discrepancies in how people like her Aunty behave around their domineering or uncaring husbands. It's a bildungsroman that is just as much about finding role models, such as Obinze's strong and hardworking mother, as it is about realising that your childhood ones are flawed, such as Aunty.
If you are looking for feminist fiction that's relevant to the politics of America, which addresses themes of belonging, homesickness, and cultural identity, then please read this book. Its complex themes are threaded with the deftness of a literary hand, and has the heart of a romantic comedy. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's works, portraying the experience of America through an 'outsider's lens, are definitely what you want to be packing into your beach-bag, or your student satchel, this summer.
Childish Gambino's Bonfire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY
About the reviewer
Elle Morgan is a Creative and Critical MA student at the University of Sussex, who loves reading and reviewing, particularly 1920's Jazz Age fiction. Her website is www.ellemorganreads.wordpress.com.