Review of Americanah

My love of Paulo Coelho compels me to say that the universe aided me in reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I remember the day I picked it up, towards the end of my senior year, when I was having a particularly rough day and needed to wander through Barnes and Noble to regain my center (I wonder now what Ifemelu would think of that). I selected that, along with Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, which I read immediately due to my having just devoured Room by Emma Donoghue. Anyway, for a while, it sat on my shelf, with good intentions, but I had little time for an almost 600 page novel. I started reading it over the summer, and truly loved the smooth word choice and imagery immediately. I knew this was a novel that would end up in the category of truly great literature for future generations. Unfortunately, I did not finish it at the time. Life got in the way- a silly excuse for some who considers themselves to be a reader, but an excuse nonetheless. I got hired, had to start planning lessons, teaching, getting used to my new schedule, my new commute, and I abandoned this much-loved book.

For whatever reason (the universe pushing me, perhaps?), I chose to come back to it a few weeks ago, and then just last week came across an advertisement that there would be a discussion about this novel at Rowan University, my alma mater, because it had been their summer reading book. The book discussion is what initially caught my attention, but when, to my delight, I discovered that one of the English professors would be a panelist, I was sold. Although I had never taken one of his courses, it only took a moment of conversation to understand that he was absolutely brilliant, so I jumped at the opportunity to have at least a taste of what it would be like to be in his class. With that in mind, I still had about 400 pages to go, and only a week to read it in, so I had to commit all of my spare time to reading the novel (which meant no New Girl for me!). I finished the novel last night, just in time for the panelist discussion today.

And boy am I glad I went.

While I cannot possibly dive into all of the dynamics at play in the novel in one single post, the themes of power, privilege, and migration within the novel are so immersive, representative, and relevant that each time I feel I’ve drawn a conclusion, or created a solution, I return to the beginning. Similarly, through this novel I have realized that a recurring theme in my own life is evaluating my own privilege. This novel is presented in an honest, objective manner, so that you almost don’t realize the many gaps it’s depending on you, the reader, to fill in. To be able to recognize white privilege is one thing, but to take it a step further and identify the privilege of having a US Passport- that is something entirely different. It combines race, class, and nationality. It’s what allows for Ifemelu to return home and Dike to find a therapist after his suicide attempt. Curt: rich, white, male, and a US citizen, is able to overlook the difficulties of a spur of the moment weekend trip to London. Could I attempt that? No. But it’s not legal fear that holds me back. If I met a rich guy who could afford it, a weekend trip would be no big deal. The reality of privilege is echoed in Nigeria with Obinze’s story. Race is not a factor, so with that out of the question, he’s work with nationality and class. His nationality is not in his favor on a world-scale, and he makes to the UK only to be deported, but when The Chief helps him to improve his position in society and he ends up with money, he is privileged enough to abandon societal values and divorce his wife to pursue the woman he loves. My privilege allows me to do all of these things, without thinking twice.

While I have received this novel with open arms and loved every second, and, if I’m being honest, have this overwhelming desire to sob over my loss of new Ifemelu and Obinze stories, it has dawned on me that not everyone would accept the stark reality presented in Americanah. I will not attempt to explain or anticipate the many reasons why, so long as I put it out there that many people will reject the ideas presented in this novel.

That being said, the novel is fabulous and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who wants a compelling read with relatable characters, honest reflections, and an insight into the global society we contribute to.

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