For the past few months I've been reading mostly genre fiction - mysteries, romances, fantasy, and paranormal or a combination of two or more of the above. Americanah is literary fiction, that is to say it is a novel of ideas and characters. Reading Americanah was an abrupt change of pace for me and it took some time to adjust to the rhythms of reading a novel that was more about ideas than plot. It was a welcome change.
The novel begins with Ifemulu and Obinze, two childhood sweethearts in Nigeria. They have dreams of going to America but Obinze's visa application is
rejected. Ifemulu goes alone, while Obinze eventually makes his way to the
United Kingdom. One's dream of a place and what life in the place is like never quite matches up with the real thing. Inevitably there are differences between one's imagination and reality, both good and bad. Ifemulu and Obinze discover this first hand as they make their way in the countries they have chosen to travel to. Eventually both of them find their way to back to Nigeria, and back in each other's lives.
Several ideas are explored in Americanah: immigration, race, class, romantic relationships, success, and perceptions of non-Africans about Africa, to name a few. In particular Adichie explores what it means to be Black through the character of Ifemulu. In Nigeria Ifemulu was simply Nigerian. In the US with this country's complicated racial history, Ifemulu is Black. Having grown up in a country where the majority of people are Black, life in the US takes some getting used to. Ifemulu continues her formal and informal education upon arriving in the US and later begins a blog about being a "non-American Black" in the US. Some of my favorite parts of the book are her blog entries.
I have so many thoughts about this book but it is difficult to discuss them without revealing plot points. Suffice to say Americanah was well worth the read. Highly recommended.