“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."
I've always been keenly fascinated by issues of migration and dislocation, while studying these themes in my college literature classes, or encountering them in many favorite novels by authors such as Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lisa See and Arundhati Roy. Perhaps that's why Americanah, by Ngozi Adichie, spoke to me so profoundly. This is a smart, engaging novel about being non-American black in America, living with racism, struggling with identity issues, coping with loss and finding love. It is so beautifully written and so moving that I found myself devouring the pages even way past my bed time.
At the heart of this daring commentary on racism, is a sweet and simple love story. Ifemelu and Obinze are childhood sweethearts - their passion is both comfortable and consuming. “She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself.” Obinze is the strong and silent type, with perfect manners and a calm, even-tempered nature. Ifemelu is the more outspoken of the two, with more guts and gusto, and she is the main character. We follow her journey as she moves to America to make a better life - "conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else." At first she is lonely, poor and desperate... which leads her to make decisions that estrange her from her love, still back in Nigeria. When she gets back on her feet and finds some stability and strength, it's fun to experience her different relationships and learn alongside her. She encounters ordinary things like kindness, romance, friendship -- but also things that are unique to America, like diversity, wealth, and abundance. “If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”
As a South Asian-American who is a 1st generation immigrant as well, I could really relate to many of Ifemelu's innocent observations, which she tells with so much wit and humour, it feels like you're her friend. The narrative shifts between her perspective and Obinze's... it is told mostly in flashbacks, while Ifemelu is getting her hair braided at a salon. To add even more depth and a modern perspective, excerpts from Ifemelu's blog, Raceteenth, are included. They are at once refreshing and thought-provoking, and I really enjoyed the writing there.
Ifemelu has finally integrated and is seemingly doing well in America, but “...there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she could be living, that over the months melded into a piercing homesickness.” When homesick Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, she re-meets Obinze, who is now married with a daughter. What unfolds is not only a love for each other, but also for their shared homeland, childhood, and all the memories. There is so much nostalgia in these pages, it is almost tangible. Parts of this book are heartbreaking, others are incredibly heartwarming.
THIS IS A MUST READ!!! I loved it so much.