AristocBooksChimamanda Ngonzi AdicheNigeria

Americanah: Forget the love story tag, this is an “intelligent book”

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]

5 thoughts on “Americanah: Forget the love story tag, this is an “intelligent book”

  1. You have nothing but praise for Americanah and Chimmy! I, however, did not fall in love with this love story. I have always admired her writing of course – words are her friends, and Americanah still has that excellent fluidity we’ve come to expect.

    It was the characters I took issue with. Ifemelu was so unserious with herself and her life. She seems to exist above everyone else – only engaging enough to pick something to criticize about. Like she’s there, but not really. I hated the way she treated Obinze and yet I also disliked Obinze – poor little rich Obinze who had a perfect wife he didn’t love, boo hoo. I felt their decision at the end was detestable – to cheat on that poor woman – and yet inevitable.

    And I suppose that too, is a credit to Chimmy’s writing – she manages to create characters who, just as real life people, are not always straightforward or know where they are going, who do stupid, questionable things.

    1. If I were to focus on the love story, I wouldn’t have loved this book too. Ifemelu, as noted was just too spontaneous, and reckless sometimes. She had negative vibe all around her. I think what Chimmy does is to make the book as “real” as possible, despite it being work of fiction.

      I also didn’t like the way she treated Blaine & her first boyfriend.

      I had wanted to add that the conclusion as such an anti-climax because, often, African men don’t leave their wives, they actually keep cheating. Obinze, like you say, is annoying at this point. He should worked to make his marriage better. Ifemelu, somehow, always wins, which I found quite annoying. I would have preferred Obinze at least try to make the marriage. He didn’t even try. But then this is why it is a love story after all.

  2. Keith,

    I hate blogger! I had just written a really long response to you but (sigh) here goes again:

    It took me five months to read this book. Normally I read her books in one week. But this one lacked that fluidity that she is known for. I had a lot of issues with this book.

    1. Ifemelu’s unseriousness with her life. She seemed to toy around with possibilities. Not really pursuing them, or ending them when she felt like it suited her. You could call this bravery, but I think it is actually the opposite – fear of success and failure. I was actually happy that Blaine and Curt saw past her facade and left her.
    2. Obinze’s character was not fully developed. We only had snippets of his childhood, his time in the UK and scrambles of his life after deportation. I thus found it hard justifying his actions towards Ifemelu and his family.
    3. And that is saying nothing of the relationship between the two and their parents. Does that speak of a disconnect of the new with the old? And why weren’t their characters fleshed out more, or that of Kosi, because Chimie returned her so late in the novel with an active voice that by then I failed to feel anything towards here when Obinze finally left.
    5. As much as the book was a stark reality of how humans behave, this was actually self defeated when Obinze turned up at Ifem’s door after leaving his wife. I am sorry, but African culture has not yet reached that level. In fact our men are too much of cowards and tied down to cultural norms to up and leave or do something spontaneous. Besides, Obinze had not stayed in London long enough to be “corrupted” by western culture. [Don’t get me wrong, I actually have nothing against men who leave their wives for their loved ones – perfectly natural – not here en Afrique]
    6. The book was more personification or characterisation than thematic, thus I groped around for a lesson to learn in vain. Which means it did not inspire at all. All I got were these “oh my god, that is so true!” moments, and nothing else.

    Chimamanda did not treat us her readers with high regard, and I feel terribly cheated to say the least. Why she left certain themes undeveloped befuddles me. But I guess because she is Chimie she can easily get away with it. The level of self entitlement that we the elite of society harbour because we have an international degree is preposterous, and I hate to think that even after all that, we never really come back to contribute to development, but rather bask in the hard work of the lower rung class.

    So Keith luv, tell me what was so intelligent about this book apart from it’s ghastly potrayals of reality, of a generation that does not seem to take their fortune seriously? Tell me because honestly, all I feel is disassociation with this kind of description. I refuse to be the one that comes home and forgets her parents, or her duty to her country…. because if I forget that, then we may as well celebrate another century of underdevelopment.

    Forgive my seemingly frustrated ramblings. And this should not even sound political, though sadly it is. Just, wake up people, especially you who go to school. Make meaning of what you have. The rest will follow.

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