28 June 2017

Books | Review: “Americanah”

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

Nigeria’s renowned storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest novel, AMERICANAH is not merely a story about Nigerians faced with difficult decisions during the country’s military dictatorship. AMERICANAH is a classical African novel in the universality and contemporary relevance of its themes: the migration of the middle class, the quest for love; and the continuous unraveling and discovery of identity.

The story of the flight of Africa’s brightest minds is one that continues to drain the continent. Yet we don’t hear often enough from Africans themselves about the challenges of migration (or immigration) of the middle class that is fleeing in the thousands because of: economic hardship, poor educational opportunities, staggering unemployment (that is leaving the youth idle and frustrated); and the pursuit for a better life.

Integration and economic stability in the idealized West are often not the easy breeze we imagine them to be. And AMERICANAH excels at telling that part of the often untold struggles of immigration, which challenge the humanity of the novel’s main characters at an existential and psychological level.

In this novel, the story follows the diverging paths of Ifemelu and Obinze; who were in secondary school when they met, fell in love and attended the same university in Nigeria. The frequent strikes by professors and long-term closure of the their university during the turbulent military dictatorship led Ifemelu to seek better education in America, leaving Obinze behind with a solid plan that he will follow her.

But their “plan” never sees the light. Obinze’s multiple trials for an American visa after 9/11 lead to rejections. It will be almost 15 years before they see each other again in Nigeria. Permanently changed by the their respective experiences, they are nonetheless more certain of what they want in life.

After a tough initiation into American life and culture Ifemelu seems to have it all. She anonymously authors a successful and witty blog on the issue of race in America and gets offered a fellowship at Princeton University, all while is in a steady relationship. Yet suddenly she has an inexplicable urge to drop it all and go “back home to Nigeria”. Ifemelu is assertive in her decision to leave America, yet unclear about the reasons that pull her back to her country of origin.

Obinze, who always idealized America, eventually gets to the United Kingdom, only to live illegally, with a borrowed identity of another Nigerian who allows him to use his name and national identification in return for more than a quarter of his salary. All this for menial jobs that rob Obinze of his dignity and make him live in constant fear of being discovered. He saves every penny to afford a fake marriage, to a citizen of the European Union, which he hopes will grant him his eventual freedom–a legal status and a proper job.

Although the UK has a lot of Nigerians including some of Obinze’s ex-classmates and a first cousin; his experience is that of utter loneliness and alienation.

The novel is funny and sad, light and heavy with a diverse set of characters (the single mother, the blogger, the hairdresser, the illegal laborer). However, in this diversity we see African characters, in the diaspora, connected by a common destiny and similar hopes–to survive, to succeed, to belong, and to feel settled.

AMERICANAH will therefore strike a chord with a wide range of readers because it defines the psyche of multiple generations from the African continent – from our own Sudan, including those who left, those who stayed and those who returned after long years abroad.


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Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf (2013)

 

One Comment

Leave a Reply

  • mohamed elgadi
    23 May 2013 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    “Integration and economic stability in the idealized West are often not the easy breeze we imagine them to be”

    A very true statement and one major reason why many immigrants fail in the US when they face the cruelty of employment with no guarantee you keep that job..

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