On Racism and Identity, and Romance

This is a review of Americanah, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

americanah

Americanah has been my introduction to Adichie. It’s a romance novel, but it is also much more than two people falling in and out of love. And I think that was what won me over.

Reading it gave me the kind of pleasure that a friend would only associate with fresh cake and warm coffee. A wholesome indulgence. It deals with issues – racism, identity, prejudice, migration, alienation.

One of the protagonists is Ifemelu (I loved the name!), who migrates to America from Nigeria, discovers racism, and tries to understand it through her successful blog. She’s a strong, smart, vulnerable and honest woman. And then there’s her ex-boyfriend in Nigeria, Obinze, whose past which is entwined with Ifem, is as captivating as hers. They were deeply in love, until one day, without warning, Ifem cut him off from her world. (The ease with which she did so was disturbing). He did not know why she did it. He might never. Obinze slowly picks up the pieces, and eventually becomes a successful man of reckoning in Nigeria. A family man. About 12 years after she moved to America, and after an existential crisis, Ifem plans her move back to Nigeria. Ifem might meet Obinze when she does…

The story flits easily to the past and back to the present. It is fast paced, but does not bore you with lack of detail, or tire you with too much.

It’s a book that will resonate with most migrants in America. Especially those from “third world” countries. It will also reach out to people whose friends have migrated to the USA. Especially if it’s someone they love.

Race is a subject that is quite significant in the book. It’s neither apologetic not too radical. I speak, though, behind the tinted glass of not having experienced racism first hand. But from what I have been witness to, caste based discrimination which is somewhat similar, I can say that such deprivation can easily be fed to obesity or be repressed further. But Americanah does the issue justice. As an bonus for me, there’s also a tinge of feminism to the book.

What dampened it for me, though, was that the protagonists were almost perfect, albeit with imperfect encounters in life. They were what one would like to be – moralistic, hardworking, successful. But, thankfully, at the same time, they were also anti-heroic – cheating, unreliable, conflicted, self righteous.

I cannot wait to read my next Adichie. I’d also recommend that you watch her TED talk before you pick up a copy of Americanah.

4/5

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3 comments

    1. I hear that That Thing Around Your Neck is an even better book. Same writer.

      On whether the migrants are more racist or the natives (?) – I’m not sure, but if you’re referring to racism against the whites, then this writer (Adichie) will disagree. Her arguments for the same are worth a read. You might want to look out for the blog posts the protagonist writes on Americanah.

      Like

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