Tuesday, February 25, 2014

americanah - chimamanda ngozi adichie

I've been meaning to write about this a while, but have been wondering how I can do it justice. The first thing I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was this short story online- 'Jumping Monkey Hill' (which I found on A Striped Armchair), and I think it was a good introduction. There are a lot of the same themes that crop up in her novels (at least the two I've read) and especially in Americanah- she takes on race and colonialism and identity, as well as the idea of authenticity. The real greatness in her writing, I think, is that it tackles these themes in a thought-provoking, confronting and not at all tired way. I read Purple Hibiscus last year and enjoyed it, would highly recommend it, but for me Americanah is a stand-out book.

Americanah is the story of two Nigerian high-school sweethearts- Ifemelu and Obinze- who are separated when Ifemelu moves to America for college and Obinze is unable to get a visa to follow her. Instead, he ends up spending some time in the UK before returning to Nigeria. In America, Ifemelu starts a successful blog on race in America from the perspective of an outsider. But her time in America starts to make her question her identity as well. 

When I was looking at reading books from Africa from my reading around the world challenge, most of the books I could find were written by expats for a Western audience, and this is no exception. What interests me is that Adichie is so aware of this, and it's a big part of what she is writing about here, in a way that challenges you to think about your position as a reader as well as the role of the writer. It's a very global story, moving between countries and showing a range of perspectives. It's also very self-reflexive- it's easy to draw parallels between the character of Ifemelu and Chimamanda Adichie herself, as American-educated Nigerians. Though Ifemelu often feels like the main point-of-view character the presence of Obinze creates an alternative- they are both quite reflective as well, so that no character or opinion seems to go unquestioned. With this questioning and the global nature of the story it feels so contemporary, and there's a lot here to cause reflection on the state of the world, or to relate to.

I also really loved the characters themselves, and I was hoping things would turn out well for them and their relationship despite all the hurdles this book throws at them, which made for a satisfying read. I really wish I still had the book with me to quote from, because it is all around fantastic and I feel I have been raving rather than providing a balanced review. What can I say? Trust me and read Americanah.

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