Friday, 15 August 2014

Books I've Read... Americanah

Americanah is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's third novel and has been shortlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2014.

What's the plot?

Ifemelu and Obinze grew up together in Lagos but both dreamt of living more successful lives far away from Nigeria. Ifemelu goes to America and Obinze sets up life in England. The novel tracks both of their separate lives but it's clear from the first few chapters that Ifemelu and Obinze's  relationship isn't over. From the outset, the issue of race in the modern world is tackled through the eyes of character's living in countries with very different attitudes- England, America and Nigeria. There is a sense of restlessness that unites all of the characters where they have longed for a life and when they have it its not how they imagined it would be. Ifemelu and Obinze needed to get away from their country of birth but feel incredibly guilty when they no longer feel connected to their culture. Adiche conveys cultural differences through the characters subtle observations and engagement with people in their lives whether it be family or their hairdresser. Essentially this is a love story between two high school sweethearts but it is the tensions around race that create the most interesting story.

What did I think?

I have some mixed feelings about this book, in one respect I really enjoyed the author's way of commenting on race which was by in large done through subtle descriptions, for example the description of the location of Ifemelu's hairdressing salon where it's noted that all salons who cater for African hair are in the worst areas of the city. I also enjoyed Ifemelu's feeling that she wanted to escape her life in Africa because in some ways it meant that she could have a career and more importantly freedom to do what she wanted. This was juxtaposed by her Auntie's situation in America where she found herself poorer and almost needing a husband to support her.
For at least two thirds of the novel I found myself gripped on the ups and downs of the characters lives but towards the end I felt it focused more on the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze which I personally found to be quite stereotypical of most romance novels or rom- com films.

Is it worth a read?

Definitely. Despite my personal reservations about the love story element, the other themes within this novel make it well worth your time. I'm actually quite looking forward to reading another of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novels in the future.

You can pick up a copy here.

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