Saturday, February 28, 2015

Americanah (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

This book is wonderful, even better than I was anticipating, and in hindsight I agree with the outrage that this was omitted from the 2013 Tournament of Books shortlist.

It is at heart a love story, the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love in Nigeria, then move to America and London respectively, where their stories diverge and then start to, maybe, come together again. Ifemelu starts a blog about race from the perspective of a "Non-American Black," which allows Adichie to include discussions of privilege and race that I think would make this a valuable text to teach in college classes.

This makes it sound like it's "homework" reading, but it's totally not. Ifemelu is a wonderful character, and so are the rest of her friends and family that populate the novel (particularly her nephew Dike). She is observant, witty, flawed, smart, and sharply drawn, and she is easy to like and root for.

Ifem's outsider's view of America brings this country (and its relationship to race, and the experience of progressive liberals, and the Barack Obama phenomenon) all into sharper focus. I love the portrayal of Lagos too, which makes such an interesting counterpoint to the way it's portrayed in Graceland. This comes across as a far more well-rounded view of the country and I felt like it expanded my understanding of Nigeria.

But ultimately the observations on race and the specificity of place are a backdrop to a compelling, unpredictable, very human story told extremely well. Very highly recommended.

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