I recently read a review of Purple Hibiscus, another work by this author which I read a long time ago, and was struck by the high praise it was given. So when I spotted this book in an independent bookstore in a nearby town, I picked it up and decided to give it a go.
This one is the first in my Cornish holiday reads! Hooray!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Romance, social commentary, race, contemporary... Lots really!
Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love at their high school in Nigeria, but their lives take very different turns when Ifemelu heads to America and starts a successful blog about race, and Obinze, failing to get a visa, heads instead to England.
I found this book challenging, but also immensely enjoyable. Adichie does not shy away from exposing her characters' falsehoods, and does not let them get away with being one-dimensional. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies and their clashing approaches and agendas. No character or relationship escapes change, and are all subject to a ruthless realness that sets Adichie apart as a writer.
While the story is really about her two main characters, Obinze and Ifemelu, the book is also unashamedly about race. I was made to think about many things that I've never considered before, both big (Ifemelu struggles to get a job because of her skin colour) and mundane (why is it that 'skin colour' underwear and make-up is always for white people anyway?). Adichie makes nothing unsayable, and talks about uncomfortable topics that are not often addressed.
And the book also deals with all the subtle tensions of culture, origin and belonging. Adichie sharply describes the Nigerian expats' sense of home while living in America, 'a blurred place between there and here', and the disparity between expectation (theirs and their families') and reality. Ifemelu also feels this alienation from both cultures, embarrassed during her parents' visit (though ashamed of this embarrassment), but also not fitting into Americans' social circles.
I liked the writing as well. For the most part it was invisible, allowing the reader to just take in the story unhindered. Other times I was struck by a remarkably perceptive or powerful turn of phrase. And I thought the storytelling was just wonderful.
I found this book both challenging and entertaining, and thought it was made particularly enjoyable by the immensely likeable, but realistic, main characters. Adichie's writing seemed at first unremarkable, but grew on me as I read on. She is at once harsh, in her close scrutiny of characters and situations, but also forgiving in her depiction of humanity. I will most definitely be reading more of her work.
What did you think of Americanah? Did you agree with my review? Have you read any other of Adichie's books, and if so, what did you think of them? Let me know in the comments.