Americanah is a good novel. It’s well written, it has interesting characters that feel like real people, and a loose plot line that involves boyfriends and break-ups and the challenges of adapting to a new culture. It was enough to keep me reading and in the end I did enjoy the book but I had the sense throughout that Adichie was just trying to hard. The issue of race is the tie that binds the book together. The main character, Ifemelu, moves from Nigeria to the U.S., starts what becomes an acclaimed blog about race, and pontificates to friends, family, and all her readers about her observations and challenges she’s faced. Being Caucasian, I found her perspective intriguing, especially the notion that race is almost non-existent in Nigeria. I am not equipped to cast doubt on this assertion but I do wonder. As you may have gathered, the race theme of the book is not subtle. You are knocked about the head with it and Adichie even goes so far as to include entries from Ifemelu’s blog, which for me constituted low points in the novel. Ifemelu, despite being very clever and well educated, is a terrible writer and the reader questions why the blog is so popular (or perhaps that’s why it’s so popular). It feels as if a 13-year-old wrote it, despite some of its observations being eye-opening for me as a white person. The whole novel was clearly an excuse for Adichie to write about race; the main storyline is meandering and essentially boils down to Ifemelu trying to negotiate a new life in America and wrestling with maintaining a relationship with her high school sweetheart back in Nigeria. I wouldn’t mind the flimsy plot line so much except that Adichie’s previous novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read and so I couldn’t help but feel let down by Americanah. Perhaps that’s the risk of writing an excellent work: you now have a very high standard to meet. Perhaps if I hadn’t read Half of a Yellow Sun, I would have liked Americanah more. As it stands, I recommend Americanah if you’re interested in issues of race, the immigrant experience, and culture differences.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie