Our next novel is Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of We Should All be Feminists. I’m not wildly in love with this novel, it hasn’t changed my life. But I like it, and I plan on reading more of Adichie’s work in the future.
“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”
I mostly like the way this book was written, the author’s prose was enchanting in places (I loved how she described a professor as looking ‘emotionally malnourished’, which is a phrase I would never have thought of but I understood immediately). This being said, the writing veered from gorgeous to being forced. When it’s good it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s clunky.
“And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping its wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away”.
Overall, I enjoyed the plot and it was easy to follow even though she bounces around the timeline. But there wasn’t enough of it, I never really got the “oh my goodness what happens next” feeling that makes me rush through pages and pages. The whole thing was just interesting and not captivating or spell-binding. This reviewer from Goodreads put it well: “Americanah is really a series of vignettes in which an endless parade of minor characters talk about race, nationality, and various other issues, with Ifemelu in the background.”
It feels like she took every single racial issue she ever encountered and put it in the book. Sometimes I felt like she took opportunities to deliver mini lectures to the readers under the guise of the story or a blog post. The beginning was a bit slow for me. She would wax on endlessly about things like peacocks or Obama and then zip through things that could have been really important like a suicide attempt, the death of a lover, a failed attempt at marriage. She would waste a plot twist by simply springing it onto the reader and moving on quickly – and then she would dedicate paragraphs on things like hair. It felt like the story itself took a backseat to racial observations at times.
“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it”.
Having been a foreigner in an American campus, I related so so much to Ifemulu’s description of university classes in America (ref. pages 134-135). She nailed the experience, from students spending the whole lecture droning on meaninglessly and wasting time. American students have a knack for saying nothing by saying a whole lot. Even the part about children talking about their feelings when they should already know how to spell and do division is spot on. I say this having had an American university education at the undergrad level and I can compare it to having received my post-graduate degree in the UK. The US needs to drastically step up their game when it comes to education.
The relationship between the US and UK was also interesting and relatable to me. Obinze notes that what happens in America is on the front page of British newspapers but what happens in England is barely mentioned in American news. The same can be said of Qatar with both the US and the UK.
For some reason, I didn’t like Ifemulu at all. I didn’t like many of her choices and I felt like she was cold and judgmental and was often a hypocrite. She has a tendency to use people and then drop them like flies. All the men in her life improve her, Obinze makes her read more and go to the US, Curt makes her happier and go on adventures and laugh, Blaine made her eat healthy and work out. What did she do for them? She annoys me so much – she left all of them abruptly and broke their hearts.