Very few books get settled in my memory so firmly (maybe I should read more haha). But Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of those few.
Powerful, honest, insightful…it’s one of those novels that astonish you by the interconnection of themes and how an individual story fits into a larger socio-economic context that we sometimes know of, read about, learned the numbers but don’t know how to feel it with our hearts. Ngozi Adichie let you step into the main character’s shoes.
I’m not going to retell the plot – I’m not going to take away the joy from you. It’s a kind of book that keeps you invigorated anxiously waiting what comes next, is she going to return to her first big love (oops the spoiler still slipped).
What I’m going to tell you though is a few important topics to watch out for:
- Realities of race. What’s the difference between an African-American and an American-African? Is there a difference? Americanah explores this issue through the story of Ifemelu (love her name so much), a female immigrant from Nigeria. Americanizing the accent, relaxing the hair, adjusting behavior, toning down emotions – all of these are the changes the main character has to go through until she finds the strength to go back to her true self she’s most comfortable in. Never has Ifemelu felt as free as the day when she stopped hiding her Nigerian accent. Read this great review by NYTimes for a deeper look into this theme
- Being in a woman in America or a woman in the world in general. There is a place in the novel for stories of harassment, underappreciation, and fear of an empowered woman. And why wouldn’t there be space for these stories – stories, that occur in every woman’s life (or someone who identifies them as a woman) and transcend race, religion, continents, and county borders.
- Homecoming after living abroad for a while. Or specifically coming to a developing country from a developed one. For those who never let it’s the opportunity to bring the judgment out. Oftentimes homecoming is seen as a failure rather than a journey, an eye-opening experience, a chance to see things broader and deeper and bring the best of knowledge back. I think in a sense that’s something that awaits every Atlas Corps fellow coming back – a pinch of hostility, a bit of rejection of everything you have to bring to the table once you’ve traveled and learned.
Those are three big themes I’d suggest to look out for while reading the book. But there are so many more layers to them. And those who read attentively or who grew up reading the classics will definitely notice and appreciate the under streams. Enjoy the ride!