Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has many thoughtful reviews by readers far more qualified than me to judge the book on its inherent merit as a social commentary by a Nigerian immigrant to America.

Adichie describes the richness and vibrance of Nigerian city culture vividly, so that even a reader like me who has never been to Lagos gets a true feel of middle- and upper-class life there. She then contrasts Lagos to the northeastern United States, where her character Ifemelu emigrates for education and stays for work.

The story is panoramic, covering many people, locations, and decades. Her Nigerian characters have depth and connection, while her American characters seem more two-dimensional; it is hard to discern their motives or feel that Ifemelu is more than an observer in their lives, even though she has friendships and lengthy relationships with black and white Americans. The narrative improves a great deal when she returns to Nigeria subtly changed and must re-integrate into her native society.

Where the book packs a punch is with its almost clinical examination of race in America by someone who Americans read as black, but who does not identify herself as anything but Nigerian until she arrives in the US. Ifemelu navigates the perplexing, infuriating, confusing, and sometimes nasty question of race in America with an intelligence and detachment that eventually crystallizes into her need to return home.

This is certainly a book worth reading to understand how the United States treats her immigrants and how our race issues look and feel to people joining us from other countries where class, not race, defines someone. You'll come away with a lot of questions and perhaps a new appreciation of how difficult it is to be an outsider here.

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