Americanah follows two Nigerian-born lovers who decide to walk separate paths through Western society. Ifemelu is a free-spirited woman who follows her Aunt to America, while her ex-lover Obinze takes his chances in Europe. Both Nigerians grow to learn how they fit into Western society’s framework while also working to obtain their life dreams.
The power of this book comes from the perspective it offers. American or European-born readers will be able to see how we are perceived through the eyes of immigrants; in particular, African immigrants. This is an important distinction in a modern world full of racial tension, where black people have been perceived as inferior to white people throughout colonial history. Author Chimamanda Adichie gracefully shatters preconceptions about life in Africa — more specifically in the country of Nigeria — and also shines a light on the fallacy of the American Dream. Seeing America and Western Europe through the eyes of prestigiously educated characters helps really drive these unique perspectives home.
Despite the amazing content of this book, in terms of writing craftsmanship, readers may struggle with the passing of time. Based on what we’re told in the book, the story spans a little over a decade. All the while, Chimamanda jumps between the characters’ memories seemingly at random. Further intensifying the confusion is the large cast of friends, family, and acquaintances interspersed throughout the story’s timeline. Ultimately, the book ends up making sense, but some of the confusion caused by the exclusion of dates may require a second read-through to iron everything out. Fortunately, this book is definitely worth multiple reads.
Overall, Americanah is a commentary on Western race issues and Nigerian culture, while at the same time highlighting the commonalities between Western and African cultures as Ifemelu and Obinze navigate complex interpersonal relationships with people around them. Several quote-worthy lines present themselves throughout the book that beautifully capture the struggle among people of African descent. Anyone looking to understand the racial conflicts plaguing modern Western society should read this book. But in the end, the message is clear. It seems we all want the same thing: a happy, prosperous life with loved ones.