Americanah is a story of a young Nigerian girl emigrating to the United States for a university education and the promise of a better life.
Americanah is a love story of two young lovers separated by distance, pursuing their dreams however they can until disillusionment with the results brings them face-to-face again to face their old and future feelings.
Americanah is a story about race in America. In Britain. In Nigeria.
Americanah is a Wizard of Oz story about how you don’t always need to go over the rainbow to find what you want, sometimes you need to simply recognize the desires inside you and have the strength to make them so despite the cultural, familial and familiar obligations that surround you.
Americanah is a story about place. A story where place is more a character than a setting.
Americanah is the type of story that you can’t put in a box. The book’s brilliance lies in its ability to tell a story about race, globalization, global tensions, discrimination, immigration, academic life, materialism as success and self discovery through the story of two young Nigerians. At the outset, they are young and in love and hungry for life beyond their school and family. But somewhere along the lines, their actions to seek out a better future, still put them on paths to adult mediocrity. Dreams are muddled, confused, waylaid. Ethics are compromised in order to stay the course. Their love for each other becomes just another part of a past that must be compartmentalized, packed away, in order to focus on the more urgent needs of the now.
Americanah is about voice. Reading this novel this winter while the country seems to be shining a light on the fact that the Civil Rights Movement and the election of the first black president did not solve all the country’s institutionalized racism, not to mention the personalized racism, was particularly poignant. Ifemelu, the young woman in the story, starts a blog to comment on race in America. I found her posts to be fascinating, eye opening and brilliant. I found myself wishing it were real so I could hop online and read them all up. Alas, fiction.
What I loved nearly as much as the book was finding Adiche’s TED talk afterwards about the danger of single story. The point being that her work no more defines Nigeria or Nigerians as American Psycho defines all young adult males (her example). Just as her fictional character’s experiences and blog are only an individual’s perspective, we must open our eyes to all that we can to find empathy and understanding.
I found this idea of a single story to be so personally relevant – we are all more than mothers or wives or sisters or workers. We are a culmination of roles and passions and cultures and childhood experiences and tastes. I think this single story concept defines the very reason why the mommy wars perpetuate – the word mother means something to me and something different to you and something absolutely opposite to that lady over there. Yet, for some reason, many of us seek to put motherhood in a box that means all one thing or another and any mother not fitting in the box provided is therefore doing it wrong. We can’t fall prey to the single story. There are many stories, many experiences, many challenges all leading to truths. Yes. Plural. My truth and your truth are both valid even if sometimes contradictory. Accepting the multitude of truths and stories is the only way we can all move forward to improve our communities, families and selves.
In a nutshell: Read the book. Listen to the talk. Then, go forth and find more stories.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5.
Have you read Americanah? What were your thoughts? Share them in the comments.
Coming up, Before I Go by Colleen Oakley and At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.