Wednesday, July 9, 2014

AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ifemelu is a young Nigerian woman who blogs from the United States about her experiences and observations of being a foreign and black.  She struggles mightily when she first comes to this country and finds herself doing the unthinkable in order to survive financially, at great cost to her emotional health.  Meanwhile, the love of her life, Obinze, goes to London on a 6-month visa, works menial jobs, and plans to enter into a sham marriage in order to remain there.  A dispute over the price of his borrowed identity causes him to be summarily deported, but he gets back on his feet in Lagos, Nigeria, and actually thrives there.  After gaining American citizenship, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and reconnects with Obinze, who now has a wife and child.  I was particularly puzzled as to what lures Ifemelu back to Nigeria, American passport in hand.  Perhaps the chance to see Obinze again provides some motivation, or perhaps she just wants to go home.  She then scoffs at the snobbery of those, like herself, who completed their education abroad but becomes equally disenchanted with her old friends whose only focus is marriage.  Describing this novel as a love story feels a little lazy, because it is that and so much more.   Ifemelu’s blog posts are so blisteringly insightful, that I feel I should have paid a little more attention to her advice for white people discussing racial issues with their black friends.  One of my favorite moments in the book is when she and her fellow Africans in the U.S. rejoice in disbelief over the improbable election of Obama in 2008.   She and her boyfriend Blaine, a Yale professor, their relationship having run its course, find that their support for Obama is just about all they have left in common.  In Nigeria, race is not an issue, but people judge one another’s success by the size of their generator, since the existence of electrical power is hit or miss.  Nigeria may lack an infrastructure, but Ifemelu and Obinze find that the U.S. and the U.K. have their own sets of drawbacks.  Choose your poison, and sometimes home trumps everything else.

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