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Book 122: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book 122: Americanah.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013.
Genre: Coming of Age. Contemporary. Romance. Literary. Racial Issues.
Other Details: Paperback. 477 pages.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was the last novel that I read as part of the library shadowing group for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. I enjoyed it very much as an account of a young woman's coming of age as well as coming to terms with a new culture in which her race was suddenly a factor. It gave me a new appreciation of racial issues, especially in the USA, as well as being a moving story of lost and found love. Given that Obinze spends time in London, this also allows Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie some scope for examining the differences between racial issues in UK and the USA.

Ifemelu was a wonderful character and very much a clear voice throughout the novel. I especially loved her blog entries. The name of her blog was "Raceteenth: or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black”. I felt that her entries were thought-provoking and provided me with fresh perspectives.

Even while dealing with these weighty issues Americanah remains a light-hearted, warm and moving novel. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer of great skill who brings her characters vividly alive along with their surroundings. Her writing for me certainly transcends racial and cultural boundaries. I did wonder how much of the novel was informed by her own experience of moving from Nigeria to the USA in her late teens. When Ifemelu says to a friend after returning to Lagos “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” was she echoing her creator's own experience?

I was very pleased to hear that Americanah will be getting film adaptation with Lupita Nyong'o cast as Ifemelu. Hopefully the adaptation will do the novel justice.

Due to time constraints I had to read this novel quite quickly and I do feel that I'd like to read it again. It would be ideal as a reading group selection as it is has plenty of material within for discussion while being very readable.
Tags: africa, african-american lit, award winner, bildungsroman/coming of age, contemporary, race
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