Riveting. Subtle. Intelligent. Loaded. Blunt. Americanah is one such book. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, undoubtedly is a good story-teller. Her use of short sentences and a touch of poetry, makes it worthwhile to read Americanah. Americanah is no ordinary story, which is why I’d insist it is an intelligent book. The setting is in three continents; Europe, America and Africa. The protagonists: two love birds, Ifemelu and her childhood boyfriend Obinze. The story is a rather complex one, considering that race is widely covered in the book.
The other issues, love perhaps, almost similar to any other love-story you can ever read. Ifemelu grew up in Nigeria and likes reading books. She is indifferent to her mother, who is religious – likes keeping up appearances in church. Adichie, intelligently, writes the story without losing track of the reader and avoids making it more of commentary or some sort of crusade. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria just like many others – due to instability – to get a “good” education in America, leaving behind her boyfriend, Obinze. Obinze and Ifemelu are cut from the same cloth. Incomplete without each other. In the modern day, they seem like snobs. But they ain’t.
“Obinze laughed, vaguely bored, but happy that she was happy.”
In America, Ifemelu, is confused by the American society but she refuses to make it change her. She refuses to adopt some mannerisms and is not pretentious – unlike her Aunty Uju. Adiche, smoothly develops Ifemelu’s character and I could certainly feel that I knew her. She uses humor – lightly – to describe the simplest of things.
“Ferdinand had a steely, amoral face; if one examined his hands, the blood of his enemies might be found crusted under his fingernails.”
She chips in with dialogue and then glides into the matter of race. Ifemelu is human. She gets depressed after failing to get a job so she can pay her tuition. She then “pleases a man” to get paid. She is disgusted. She is ashamed and cuts off all communication with Obinze.
The riveting bit about Americanah, is how characters are developed – using some anecdotes. For instance, Ifemulu’s mother is a “church hopper” as she looks for the prosperity gospel – bringing out the religious theme of how Nigerian pastors like the prosperity theme.
Obinze, while in the UK, before he is deported, is also developed as one who resents being pretentious, still likes reading and of course keeps thinking about Ifemelu. While in the UK he hustles, does a job using someone else’s name and card. Working hard to raise money to pay-off some Angolans for a sham-wedding. It is in the description of Obinze’s time in the UK that Adichie keeps the reader on tenterhooks, anticipating what will happen. He then turns up in Nigeria, becomes land-owner & joins the real-estate business. He however falls into the trap of a “marriage of convenience” – just like his other colleagues – to a flawless lady, Kosi.
“Still, he had wanted her, chased her with lavish with single-mindedness. He had never seen a woman with such a perfect incline to her cheekbones that made her entire face seem so alive, so architectural, lifting when she smiled.”
Ifemelu is also now dating a flawless man, Blaine, who she admires because of his intelligence. All this while though, Obinze is on her mind.
Adichie, tries as much as possible to make her two protagonists superior – above all. They are no saints but they’ve a conscience. Ifemelu goes on to start a blog about race and her encounters in United States. She earns from it. Her blog posts are included in the book – at some point I “almost got tired” of reading them. Ifemelu can also be rather annoying – that you could hate her – as spontaneously she decides to leave the US and go back Nigeria. She leaves Blaine.
[Two days before I bought this book, I had read this interview and I must admit – after reading both – it is almost like the book is an semi-autobiography.]
Back in Nigeria, Ifemelu doesn’t really hate it but after meeting some other returnees, she feels indifferent. Why? Because they want to eat in fancy looking places. She returned to feel at home not to get back to a life she left in the USA. She blogged about it, and her childhood friend Ranyinudo was not pleased. When she gets a job at a magazine, her dream is to turn it around with creative writing, but she is hit by the reality.
In conversation with with her workmate Daisy, she doesn’t mince her words.
Ifemelu: “It makes no sense that Aunty Onenu likes to run three profiles of these boring women who have achieved nothing and have nothing to say. Or the younger women with zero talent who have decided they’re fashion designers.”
“You know they pay Aunty Onenu, right?” Doris asked. “They pay her?” Ifemelu stared. “No, I didn’t know. And you know I didn’t know.”
“Well, they do. Most of them. You have to realize a lot of things happen in this country like that?”
Ifemelu: “I never know where you stand or if you stand on anything at all”
She would later quit her job and started blogging again. The love story then makes a return in the final chapters of the book as her and Obinze meet again. The passion is rekindled for the two love birds. From this point, Adichie has already made her point. This is finely written but complex book, and Adichie does a good job to drive her point home – be yourself, stop pretending and please, don’t try to please everyone.
|Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Picture from Farafinabooks.wordpress.com]|