Chimamandah Ngozi Adichie is a fantastic Nigerian writer whose third novel, Americanah, is one of the best books I've read this year. Adichie has been talked about lately, because her TED talk, "We Should All Be Feminists," was excerpted by Beyoncé on one of the tracks on her self-titled album, "***Flawless" (a full paragraph of her speech is inserted into the female-empowerment song). Coinciding with Adichie's new fame (the hundreds of thousands of albums Beyoncé has sold has surely introduced Achichie to people who have never heard of her), her novel Americanah appeared on the NYTimes best books of 2013 (as did the last book I read, The Goldfinch). I am a fan of Beyoncé and avidly read the Times: therefore, when looking for something to read, Adichie was on my mind, and rightfully so. Americanah is deserving of the attention. It is a beautifully written, a novel that one can emotionally connect with, even if the experiences of the narrator, a young Nigerian women, Ifemelu, are foreign to the reader. Adichie focuses on a discussion of race, the experience of, as she phrases it, a Non-American Black in America (focusing on the difference between African-Americans and American-Africans). The moments I found particularly poignant were the commentary on American-isms:
When you tripped and fell, when you choked, when misfortune befell you, they did not say "Sorry." They said "Are you okay?" when it was obvious that you were not. And when you said "Sorry" to them when they choked or tripped or encountered misfortune, they replied, eyes wide with surprise, "Oh, it's not your fault."
Through Ifemelu, it is clear that Adiechie realizes the "fine-grained differentiations don’t penetrate the minds of many Americans... Many of Adichie’s best observations regard nuances of language" (source). The foreigner-coming-to-America is not an uncommon trope, however Adichie doesn't focus on the differences between Nigeria and America, or Nigeria and Britain, but on how race is viewed in these countries. As one reviewer succinctly writes, "Americanah is interested in laying bare all the hypocrisies of the liberal American elite." (I encourage you to read that review after reading the novel).
Americanah offers commentary on the intricacies American race relations and the capitalist Nigerian life, where "Third Worlders are forward looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past." Ifemelu also bluntly offers advice to Americans on her blog (this is just an excerpt, the whole section is fantastic [location 5443 in my kindle if that means anything]):
Don't say your grandfather was a serf in Russia when slavery happened because what matters is you are American now and being American means you take the whole shebang, America's assets and America's debts, and Jim Crow is a big-ass debt. Don't say it's just like antisemitism. It's not. In the hatred of Jews, there is also the possibility of envy-they are so clever, these Jews, they control everything, these Jews- and one must concede that a certain respect, however grudging, accompanies envy. In the hatred of American blacks, there is no possibility of envy- they are so lazy, these blacks, they are so unintelligent, these blacks.
I don't know if you can truly get a grasp of the greatness of this novel: it is a "novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us." If you're looking for one book to read on your winter break, this is a fantastic choice. Or, if not this winter break, I encourage read this novel when you can (I realize I'm ending most posts like this nowadays, oh well). Rating: ★★★★★