The English Book Club members spent their Christmas holidays reading a fascinating novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Nigerian Adichie, born in 1977, is an award-winning novelist whose work has been translated into over thirty languages, including Finnish. She lives in both Nigeria and the United States. Americanah is Adichie’s third novel.
Americanah asks us to position ourselves regarding questions of race, identity, and belonging, as well as the priviledges and restrictions brought to our lives by the origins of our birth and the fact of our sex. Adichie’s main characters feature a strong female and a soft male, Ifemelu and Obinze, lovers since high school. While young, their Nigeria is ruled by the military; towards the end of the book a newly democratic state. After high school and a year or two of university studies in Nigeria, Ifemelu discovers an academic life in the United States. At first struggling to find her place in the foreign society, later graduating and launching a popular blog dealing with race issues Ifemelu seems to find her own voice. Meanwhile Obinze, due to the choicelessness of life after graduation in Nigeria, tries his luck in London. 15 years later both have returned to Nigeria to find their homeland and themselves again.
The multiplicity of themes and questions in Americanah is both exhausting and inspiring. What does it mean to be black or white? How does the relationship between Africa and the West represent itself to people in each sides? What is the role of being a male or a female in defining one’s life and ambitions? Finally Americanah also asks: Where do we belong to and why? What is the place we want to call home and to whom do we relate to? Where do we find happiness? Any of these would suffice as a theme of a successful novel alone. Adichie succeeds in binding them all to the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, although, in order to keep her novel within a reasonable length, some more in depth than others.
Members of our Book Club seemed to enjoy the novel – even with its nearly 500 pages, everyone attending the meeting had finished the book. While its themes are vast and various, the novel is easy to read, a delight in its language and description of places and people. Americanah is an intellectual book without being pretentious. The story of Ifemelu and Obinze takes a hold of you and does not let go, not even after the last page. Chimamande Ngozi Adichie convinced us deeply – many of us decided to read more of Adichie’s work in the future.
Americanah is warmly recommended to anyone who likes a good story that not only refreshes its reader but also gives food for thoughts.