I read an article a couple of months ago on the Washington Post which listed every book to read for every year of your life from age 1 to 100. Well, if someone lives longer then they might have to extend this list. Americanah was the book suggested for my age. If you’re curious as to how old I am then you now have a way to find out. I have had Americanah on my TBR list for a long time now. But, because my list only grows sometimes books get buried there and never make it to the top of the list. I took this as an opportunity to bump this up. I started reading it and the first few chapters captivated me. I was eager to know where the story was going and how the characters would develop. The book follows Ifemelu, a sharp and observant girl from Nigeria who moves to America and faces a lot of racism sometimes directly and sometimes in the most subtle ways.
Even though it started off really strong, I have mixed feelings about the book. The issues which Ifemulu faces range from religion, race to hair problems. I didn’t realize how hair could sometimes demonstrate some of the major problems in our world. I had decided to read Americanah after watching Adichie’s TED talk titled, “We should all be feminists”. The talk was so brilliant that I even read the book with the same title and couldn’t stop talking about it for days. However, Americanah did not live up to the expectations which I initially had. The second half of the book becomes harder to read since all the characters seem to enter into long rants about topics which have been previously brought up. This makes some of the dialogs sound extremely intense and angry to a point that you want to skip over it. And, some characters who show up seem unnecessary. The ending becomes extremely complicated and hence makes the book longer than it should have been.
However, irrespective of some of its flaws, I really enjoyed how it got me thinking about issues with race in the society through the eyes of an African teenager and woman. The quote below is one such instance. If you want to read something which isn’t just a nice story but also gets you to think, I would recommend this. Please remember that it can get very slow and repetitive towards the second half of the book. I have heard that some of her less popular books like, “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “Purple Hibiscus” are better than Americanah and I am eager to read them.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”
Read this if you like: Books on racism, feminism, contemporary fiction and cultural books
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: May 14th, 2013
SYNOPSIS AS TOLD ON THE BOOK
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.