Book Review: Adichie’s ‘Americanah’

I spent my entire life living in in-between spaces. Not fully belonging to where I lived nor to my presumed identity. Growing up in different countries and never really living in the country my parents are from, led me to believe that I was a global citizen.

The further I was from my parent’s culture, the more I yearned for it. I missed having Turkish coffee after lunch or with a bunch of friends, my ears missed listening to the Arabic vibrations I was used to hearing at home with family. I spoke Arabic more frequently than I usually did and incorporated certain routines like listening to traditional Lebanese artists and drinking Turkish coffee.

I learned how to accommodate and assimilate without compromising the mixed identity I had. I was able to mingle with different people, cultures and mentalities effortlessly.

Living in-between spaces led me to Adichie’s Americanah, a beautiful book recommended by a friend at the Migration Museum in London.

Adichie’s Americanah discusses the life of two Nigerians, Ifemulu and Obinze and their journeys of migrating to the US and England for better work opportunities and education. However, I would like to discuss Dike, a young boy who moved to the US with his mom and is faced with racism and attempts suicide.

Ifemulu starts a blog during her stay in the US and discusses race with her readers. She also mentions how she accommodated to her surroundings while staying true to her identity and that truly resonated with me. Her debates with race are something I am unfamiliar with. However, she painted vivid images of how the experience of an African woman in the US might feel like.

The novel drifts into Obinze’s experiences in England, searching for work while residing illegally and eventually using someone else’s national security ID to work.

Another crucial yet sidelined character is Dike. The son of Ifemelu’s friend who also emigrates to the US. Dike is faced with racism and an identity crisis at a young age.

However, Dike’s thoughts and emotions are communicated to Ifemulu, who in turn communicates those thoughts to her readers. We don’t get context and background information to Dike’s mental state and experiences in the US as an American of African descent. He knows he’s American and is curious about Nigeria.

Having recently moved from Nigeria, Dike is lost and can not determine his identity. Eventually, we learn from Ifemulu that Dike attempts suicide due to his lack of sense of identity.

Introducing these three characters, helps me present the argument about the flaws I encountered while reading this novel. Even though it was a smooth and enjoyable read, I couldn’t help but notice the following: Dike’s personal experiences with race and confused identity are not enough to support Ifemulu’s observations of race. I noticed that Dike’s voice cannot be heard in the novel.

We hear of his experiences from Ifemelu’s point of view instead of hearing it directly from him. The novel is centred around her and Obinze’s experiences instead of including Dike’s. In this novel, the adult’s narratives overpower the child’s narrative and silence it.

I would have enjoyed the novel further if I saw an equal representation of the voices of each character. Children experience the same things as adults, their perception and interpretations might be different, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be able to add valuable insight into Ifemelus’s observations of race and identity.

The other flaw I found in this novel is the forced romance shared between Obinze and Ifemulu. The romance felt like it was thrown into the novel to distract the reader from the heavy narratives of racism. It didn’t feel connected to the general theme and it also felt that their relationship was inevitable, instead of something that was building up throughout the novel.

Americanah is a beautiful read filled with descriptive narratives of racism and identity. Incorporating a blog offered it a modern touch and an easy-going structure to read through. However, every novel is subject to flaws. Nonetheless, they didn’t influence the general experience of reading the book, due to its sincerity and genuineness.

Where turbulent thoughts and structure intersect

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