Paperback (Fourth Estate, 400 pages)
First published 2013; this edition published 2014
Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars
“From the award-winning author of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ a powerful story of love, race and identity. As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face? Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.”
Make no mistake – this is a powerful novel.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Americanah – I have not read many books on race in Western society, with the most famous one I’ve read perhaps being The Colour Purple by Alice Walker. At first, the jumps between past and present confused me, but I was quickly able to adapt – and I am so glad that I stuck with this novel. What unfolds is a fascinating, wonderfully detailed, lyrical account of love, culture shock and trying to find one’s place in the world. And I loved it. The presentation of Nigeria and America through a foreigner’s eyes is vivid, the characters have so much depth – and I cannot express my delight at this book enough. Ifemelu’s blog posts are revelatory; after finishing this book, I was left with a newfound perspective on race, and I know that Americanah will stay in my mind for a long, long time.
I cannot talk about the beauty that is Americanah without mentioning the torturous, heartbreaking relationship between Obinze and Ifemelu. Though they spend most of the novel apart, Ifemelu’s sorrow and regret and sheer longing for what they once had is at once evocative and painful; I found myself gripped by the both of them – I was praying that they would be able to resolve their troubles. The writing is that realistic that I could see the two of them, feel the tension between them, and I was so invested in their bond.
(I stayed up until 2am to finish this, by the way. That’s how good Americanah is.)
Americanah is a thought-provoking, inspiring work of fiction, and I truly do recommend it. Buy it. Read it.