Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah centers on Ifemelu and Obinze, young Nigerian lovers who are divided when she moves to the United States, and he later heads for England. The novel is an exploration of many themes: love, race and identity, family, and what it’s really like for an African immigrant in the West. I relate to the complex, heartbreaking and noble experiences of these characters as immigrants. I laughed knowingly at Ifemelu’s frank observations about Americans, and her desperate attempts to fit into her new world. I sympathized with the hardships and confusion that she and Obinze endure as foreigners, and the longing for the people and places left behind. I understood the tough and at times damaging decisions they each make to survive.
Americanah delves into Ifemelu’s introduction to the construct of race and her identity as a black woman, an issue she never dealt with in Nigeria. Adichie examines interracial dating, hair and beauty, and patriotism, among other things. In addition to the generic “White” and “Black” categories, the book also makes distinctions between “American Blacks” and “Non-American Blacks”. It’s a deeply honest, funny, emotional and thought-provoking look at what it’s like for an African woman in the United States.
While race is at the center of Americanah, the novel is, in its own way, a love story. It’s the passionate love story of Ifemelu and Obinze, teenaged sweethearts who must find their way back to each other. It’s also the shifting love story between Ifemelu and America, a country that brings her both happiness and pain. Finally, it’s the unfailing love story between Adichie and her Nigeria.