For you. “Ceiling,” poor thing!
There are many good reasons to buy Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s publisher should rise and take a bow. Americanah is an ode to editorial excellence. Not a word out of place. When the book is good, it is really good; defiance pops out of well-dug trenches, igniting wars that give the middle class and the poor in Nigeria and America the middle finger. Americanah confers on the reader a deep respect for Adichie’s industry and writing prowess. Many of the characters in Adichie’s Americanah live in my part of America. I do see my daughter in the book’s dingy apartments negotiating a hair weave. In this book of many opinions, Adichie handles the sensitive subject of child labor and house help abuse with mastery; this is what Adaobi Nwaubani should have done. The reader will swoon at her re-telling of America’s love affair with Barack Hussein Obama, of how millions of Americans held their breath on that night in 2008 as they waited for Obama to win the presidency.
Americanah is not a perfect book, but it is perhaps the best narrative on contemporary Nigerian life I have read in a long while. Campus life in Nigeria is expertly handled. Adichie captures the hustle – and the filthy bustle of campus life in Nigeria. The love-making between the two main protagonists, “Ceiling” Obinze and Ifemelu, may be cringe-worthy to some but felt authentically Nigerian. Adichie builds convincing characters in Aunty Uju and her son and the relationship between her and Ifemelu is moving. Adichie uses Nigerian lingo in convincing and refreshing ways. She captures the culture clash going into America comically; read Aunty Uju, the apologetic Nigerian, trying to be an American. As she channels Jhumpa Lahiri in the soulless tenements of her America, in the blandness of her America and her food garnished with tasteless spices and pretty words, the sadness weighs on you like a heavy winter coat three sizes too big for you:
In London, night came too soon, it hung in the morning air like a threat, and then in the afternoon a blue-grey dusk descended, and the Victorian buildings all wore a mournful air. In those first weeks, the cold startled Obinze with its weightless menace, drying his nostrils, deepening his anxieties, making him urinate too often. He would walk fast on the pavement, turned tightly into himself, hands deep in the coat his cousin had lent him, a grey wool coat whose sleeves nearly swallowed his fingers. Sometimes he would stop outside a tube station, often by a flower or a newspaper vendor, and watch the people brushing past him. They walked so quickly, these people, as though they had an urgent destination, a purpose to their lives, while he did not. His eyes would follow them, with a longing, and he would think: You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are. (p 227)
Americanah is an ambitious but flawed chronicle, immensely readable, brilliant in parts, showing off some good writing. Tension snaps the pages. Adichie spares neither Nigeria nor America; she does have a soft spot for England. Her analysis of the politics of hair in the book is fascinating and engaging, even though there is hair everywhere, hair fascinates Adichie, and she shrinks from nothing, not even pubic hair. It is a near-fetish. In public interviews and comments, Adichie seems to regard growing natural hair as the next civil rights movement, and she comes across as evangelical and judgmental. Her treatment of the subject in the book however is actually entertaining and illuminating; not in-your-face judgmental. Yes, Americanah is an engaging book. Messy. Like life. Brilliant. Like life. Dumbass. Like life. Infuriating. Like life. Adorable. Like life. Bipolar. Like life. It is not hard to fall in love with a book that sighs like this:
For months, the air in their flat was like cracked glass. (p 41)
This is my favorite passage; it spoke to me in many ways:
And so she sent them invitation letters, bank statements, a copy of her green card. The American embassy was better now, the staff was still rude, her father said, but you no longer had to fight and shove outside to get in line. They were given six-month visas. They came for three weeks. They seemed like strangers. They looked the same, but the dignity she remembered was gone, and left instead something small, a provincial eagerness. Her father marveled at the industrial carpeting in the hallway of her apartment building; her mother hoarded faux-leather handbags at Kmart, paper napkins from the mall food court, even plastic shopping bags. They both posed for photos in front of JC Penney, asking Ifemelu to make sure she got the entire sign of the store. She watched them with a sneer, and for this she felt guilty; she had guarded their memories so preciously and yet, finally seeing them, she watched them with a sneer. p 301
What is the book about? It is several conversations about identity, race, immigration, class, exile, longing, and heartbreak, all of this drama carried out in Nigeria, England and America. And oh, it is about women’s hair, the politics of women’s hair, that is. Ifemelu, the protagonist, seemingly affected with the Sokugo wandering disease walks through life in a funk, draped in a supercilious daze, hating any and everything and every human in her tortured sights. It gets annoying really, well, until you meet “Ceiling” Obinze, the liberated, some would say, emasculated Nigerian man that is the only one good enough for Ifemelu. And boy, is he liberated. He chops greens in kitchens, cleans and cooks and does not grunt, fart and dig into his butt like most Nigerian men seem to do in the book with gleeful abandon. You almost expect to see him in the next page with a baby firmly tied to his feminist back with a woman’s wrapper loudly featuring the picture of a scowling fist pumping NGO feminist and the words I LUV MY STRONG BLACK WOMAN! Many would say he Obinze is weak also; he deserts his long suffering wife who is not good enough for his eclectic and intellectual tastes (he did marry her, duh!) and ends up with Ifemelu, the love of his life. And they live happily after. End of discussion. Well, not really.
It must be said: Americanah is a work of intense industry, it is not easily dismissed. Adichie’s research skills are meticulous for the most part; you fall in love with her demons’ passions and obsessions. It features good, well-edited writing. Every writer should get a copy of the book. Part 3 houses my favorite passages. It is lucid and fluid. Adichie is on the saddle here. It is as if two different people wrote the book. Here, Obinze the male protagonist stars and shines and Adichie is at her best; tart prose and attitude strutting all over the place, stab, stab, stab with the mind. The book is more comfortable with England than with America and Obinze is a more believable and pleasant character than Ifemelu. He rescues the book somewhat from the carcinogen of Ifemelu’s intense neurosis.
What is there to dislike about Americanah? Plenty. For starters, the pseudo-intellectual over-analysis grates on the weary reader; it is is cloying and eye-roll inducing – Adichie’s mind reaches for intellectual complexity where the simple would do. Supercilious anecdote after patronizing condescending pat on the head and the reader is soon done with the book. Adichie, using Ifemelu as a proxy, analyzes everything and the analysis is not always the best. No wonder the book is hefty. Many African writers tend to deploy caricatures to analyze issues. It can be effective. In Americanah’s case it is simply overdone and it diminishes the book immensely. Also, sometimes, Americanah feels and tastes like sugary processed food. Top that with cheesy romance layered on social commentary, and the reader soon chants Halleluiah! as the book mercifully trots mechanically to a pre-determined end, like a mass-produced batch of cookies out of a Starbucks oven.
Americanah proudly shows off botched attempts at innovation. Ifemelu’s “blog posts” in the book would have made good provocative essays. However, they are not very good, filled with generalizations and specious arguments, prescriptive at best, never examining why things are the way they are. They are at best mildly thoughtful as if the blogger was too lazy or timid to fully flesh out the thoughts. There is no vision here which is fine if it is just for entertainment but then the book strains to be taken seriously. It tries too hard. And in there lies the possibility that like many African writers straining to write “fiction” true success may lie in simply writing good essays.
There is a formulaic feel to Americanah. There is no perfect novel but as fiction goes, Americanah plays it safe, straight off the orthodoxy of an MFA program. All the rules of “good writing” are checked. Meticulously. As a near-aside, I would hate to be an author today. In the age of social media, readers already burdened with ADHD issues have more reading options than in the halcyon, analog days of old. Today, a book must engage readers or they are back to typing “LOL” on inane luscious Facebook gossip. At almost 500 pages, Americanah is too fat for the 21st century. It is engaging but unless you are a hermit, reading it will take forever.
For many African writers, fiction provides a sense of security and a wide, comfortable palette to discuss social/political issues. It is fair however to question whether Adichie should have used the essay format instead of fiction to address all the social anxieties in the book. After Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe stopped using fiction to comment on social and political issues. He wrote brilliant essays as a result. I think Americanah should have been a book of essays. Even at that it would have needed considerable work.
In Americanah, Adichie handles the new Christianity, the new plague destroying much of Black Africa well, but there is nothing new here really; it has been covered ad nauseam by many contemporary African writers, most recently by the brilliant NoViolet Bulawayo in her stunning debut We Need New Names. Similarly, the analysis of exile and alienation comes across as dated. Example: In the 2000s Adichie’s characters are still writing letters and mailing them in place of email. This is a possibility, a quaint, remote plausibility though. Historical fiction is still as relevant as ever, however the writer has an obligation to be true to the times. A writer must understand and be in sync with the new culture of life today. Social media, cellphones, the Internet have reengineered how we live in spectacular ways and with muscle. Adichie proves convincingly that she does not much understand the culture of social media. She grafts their tools clumsily on the old and they sit in the book like congealed oil on water. Chat rooms! It is cringe-worthy reading about chat rooms today. Who goes to chat rooms anymore?
Where Adichie really loses it is in her analysis of race issues in the West. The book swims in cute anecdotes about race – in black and white, but it is complicated. Adichie’s world view on race relations in America misreads the huge demographic shifts sweeping America. America is browning. It is strange, for example, that a book on exile, immigration and race is virtually silent on Hispanics (there is a little paragraph in the book somewhere that seems to do no more than acknowledge the existence of Hispanics). America is browning and Hispanics and Asians have a lot to do with the phenomenon. In many parts of America whole swathes speak only Spanish. In the 21st century, America is not just black and white. There are other races and ethnicities. And there is the Internet.
The discussion on race in Americanah also seemed contrived. In order to cover the prism of race, Ifemelu, the protagonist dutifully dates a white man and then an African American man. Sadly, perhaps mercifully, the book clatters to a cheesy end before Ifemelu turns her jaundiced eyes on a Latino. Adichie touches on the tension between African Americans and Africans but it is a blurb. It could have been teased out more. Some of the dialogue on race is simply awful. When Ifemelu snarls at VS Naipaul’s self-loathing, the retort might as well have been aimed at her – she reeks of self-loathing. (See my essay, The Naipaul in us). Ifemelu channels Naipaul in her despair and shows little compassion for the truly dispossessed immigrants who fled the black-on-black crime of their ancestral lands. An overly Westernized Ifemelu and Obinze are now the caricatures that Ifemelu despises.
How far is the book removed from Adichie’s life? We may never know but when Adichie riffs about Baltimore the book seems merely autobiographical and morphs into a book about terrifying personal anxieties. At Adichie’s book reading in London, to her chagrin the white moderator kept mistaking Ifemelu’s views for Adichie’s. That faux pas spoke volumes about how readers may perceive the book. The moderator may be on to something. In this video clip Adichie admits that a lot of the protagonist’s views are hers. Interestingly, at the book reading, Adichie also called Americanah a “Nigerian” book. Perhaps. It is certainly a book about Nigerian lives. If it is an authentically Nigerian book, she has a strange way of showing it. Americanah is a book struggling for identity. Nigerian words are meticulously italicized and neat tricks are deployed to explain them to a presumably Western audience. All the blurb writers are “posh white men” Adichie’s favorite phrase at the book reading. Surely there are Nigerian writers of stature who could have been coaxed to write a blurb for her book. Instead she trots out Dave Eggers and Colum McCann, “posh white” thinkers who proceed to be effusive in praise of a book allegedly about Nigeria.
Americanah is about a lot of issues, several of them handled rather poorly. In Adichie’s treatment of class issues, there is not much tension here, just a meandering exercise in upper middle-class narcissistic navel gazing, with reams of condescension and a certain lack of compassion shown to those ruined by Nigeria’s ruling and intellectual elite. One gets the sense that for Adichie and many African writers, fiction is a convenient proxy for airing societal dysfunction, preferably in self-absorbed prose. The reader is paying for someone else’s navel-gazing.
In Americanah, Adichie displays a knack for detail, nothing escapes her cynical eyes. Nigeria’s Jhumpa Lahiri, she is this fastidious house inspector groping for dirt in your bathroom. She takes superciliousness and patronizing condescension to chic heights. Americanah bears heavy echoes of Lahiri’s superciliousness. There is no joy here, just people waking up and doing what they have to do. Ifemelu will not be pleased. Nothing impresses her. Ifemelu is anal-retentive, indeed many Americans would call her an asshole. She has a huge chip on her cute shoulders. And it is ugly, bristling with impatience, a quickness to judge others using pseudo-intellectual psychobabble. And she overanalyzes everything. I mean everything. Even the peppersoup is overanalyzed. Just eat the damn thing. While Ifemelu’s preferred romantic relationships were with Western men, she hardly had any respectful conversation with anyone in the West. Everything is tinged with race. In Ifemelu’s world, America is a tired, smelly place clothed in a culture of despair. Many would disagree.
Americanah is pages of caricature perhaps because in the eyes of many writers, Nigeria is a caricature nation. I could see the white editors gleefully preparing the book for the market. Do you blame them? White folks come off easy compared to Africans. With Africans mimicry is chic. And then there is the misandry. The book sometimes reads like one long lament about misbehaving slovenly Nigerian men. It is as if Adichie is gathering evidence, doing a “discovery” for possible divorce from horrid Nigerian men. In Americanah and I must observe, much of the fiction written today by female African writers, the subtext seems to be to portray African men as buffoons. One is struck by the rising tide of misandry, a surging contempt for African men. It manifests itself in many forms: African men as bumbling caricatures, relationship-averse, overweight butt-scratching, belching cave-men, usually absent (at least emotionally) from their kids, pathetic shadows of what they should be, as measured against an absurd asymptote – an idealized man drawn from Western feminist babble-speak.
While exaggeration is a useful tool for providing clarity in debates, much of what I am reading lately is over the top pompous nonsense, uncritical mimicry of the chic contempt Western feminist militants hold for the evil men that live rent-free in their red-wine addled heads. There is a crying need for a more original and nuanced analysis of the troubled relationship between men and women in Black Africa. The persistent negative depictions of African men in these books read like misandry. And it is. There are two separate issues here that are at risk of being conflated: Patriarchy and its attendant brutalization of women and children, and, the misrepresentation of men in these books, of African men as inarticulate bumbling idiots with the manners of unwashed cave men. We need original thinkers, looking at African lives out of the box of Western dysfunction.
There is no true fiction; there is the politics of fiction. We know what the word has done to the perception of African Americans. We know, thanks to Chinua Achebe, what Joseph Conrad’s words were signifying. Achebe in deconstructing Conrad and VS Naipaul was not attempting to censor them. Achebe was right to stand up for Africans; Africans are not the dolts that are represented in Conrad’s books. Similarly, much of what I am reading about men in contemporary writing by female African writers is arrant nonsense, borne perhaps out of self-loathing and an unconscious desire to measure everything against a White asymptote. It is pure mimicry, there is no intellectual depth to the conversations (Why are things the way they are?) The mimicry is of comic proportions and ultimately diminishes everyone, and the authors.
Here is a typical description of one of the men of Americanah:
“Bartholomew wore khaki trousers pulled up high on his belly, and spoke with an American accent filled with holes, mangling words until they were impossible to understand. Ifemelu sensed, from his demeanour a deprived rural upbringing that he tried to compensate for with his American affectation, his gonnas and wannas.” (p 115)
And there is more:
“Ifemelu should not have spoken, but there was something about Bartholomew that made silence impossible, the exaggerated caricature that he was, with his back-shaft haircut unchanged since he came to America thirty years ago and his false overheated moralities. He was one of those people who, in his village back home, would be called “lost.” He went to America and got lost, his people would say. He went to America and refused to come back. (p 116)
Adichie’s Americanah came out at at the same time as stunning debut works by NoViolet Bulawayo and Taiye Selasi (We Need New Names and Ghana Must Go respectively), featuring fresh scintillating prose and new and mostly profound analysis of our world and the challenges of the new immigrant in the 21st century. Scholars would do well to study these three books and try to make sense of the differing visions of these three thinkers of color. The contrasting visions of these three writers signal many things; a paradigm shift in how we view exile, alienation and race relations – and an end to the domination by Adichie of contemporary African literature. It is a good thing. We need new and fresh voices. At the book reading in London, a fawning member of the audience called Adichie the mother of contemporary African literature. Adichie shot back in swift repudiation of the insincere title: “See me see trouble O!” Adichie is perceptive and astute. Who wan die?
35 thoughts on “Americanah: Through a looking glass glumly”
I love this review. Every word, every sentence, every line, every line break, every pause for breath. It carries you swiftly forward and reins you in when the author needs to pause to gather his wits about him, and we wait patiently until he is ready to plunge ahead again. I love. I love. I love. It is balanced. It is “Choate” Hehehe. Brilliante!
You deserve a french kiss for this (from your significant other) I looked forward to Adichie’s novel having found the previous 3 short of mastery. After enduring a tremulous 4 hrs waiting for Adichie to turn up to a book reading and signing, the 2 weeks it took me to get through this were painful and just sad. By the time I was done I was struggling to locate the pedestal I had placed the woman “who would carry on the mantle left by Achebe” on. In discussing race and issues of stratification, she manages to alienate the class of people who do not share her protagonist’s views. The debate on “hair” was the worst, women who have succumbed to the “creamy crack” are made to feel like followers with no identity of their own. I struggled too with drawing a line between Ifem and Adichie and got the vibe that they shared the same views/experiences largely. I did not enjoy the book (obviously) but for her previous works I remain a Stan for Adichie.
Very articulate review! Makes one who has read the book, appreciate it better. Never mind the flaws…which I opine, you made a heavy weather of. Yes, there are things the author could have cut out or painted a better picture of… But hey, am loving this book and prejudiced already.
However, in total agreement with your point on ” being true to the times”, in the book , Ifemelu described herself as, in fact truthfully told Obinze’s mother that she would rather eat indomie noodles all day than bother to cook ! Mind you, at this time in Nigeria, the concept of noodles was largely unknown and really, there was no company producing or selling anything known like Indomie noodles. This for me is a large faux pas! I know because I used to act all “Americanah” and invoke questioning looks when posing with my ” dashed” cup noodles my aunt residing in the US sent when I went back to the University hostel.
Someone who read this book surely should have noticed this ” subtle or little mis information”.
Americanah is an autobiography disguised as fiction. This guy is disingenuous in his review of the book. Adichie lacks the sensibility of race and racism in America. The book sucks! The problem with this reviewer is his budding system with these writers. This reviewer would never write an objective review when it pertains to some of these African writers.
Spend your money wisely, and search the Internet for other reviews about African Literature in order to compare and contrast.
“The problem with this reviewer is his budding system with these writers. This reviewer would never write an objective review when it pertains to some of these African writers.”Hunh? Could u please explain?
@5hola Dawodu, are you trying to say that these writers are no good? Softly ooo!
An interesting review. I quite enjoyed ‘Americanah’. I think some of the idiosyncrasies highlighted e.g. Bartholomew are unique to the particular character rather than a conscious string of generalisations. Bland, insipid characters don’t make for drama. I shared my thoughts on my blog.
AN elaborated review.. I am still looking forward to reading the novel. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is such a talented writer.
Wow, there has been much buzz about this book. With this review and the comments here, it seems I have no choice but to add it to my TBR list. I’ll probably get around to reading it sometime after all of the chatter dies down 🙂
I can guess that you shall review ‘Ghana Must Go’ and I hope you do. I see the three writers Bulawayo, Adichie and Selasie as the three musketeers who came out with books around the same time. Which book do you like most?
Ou la la , straight from the gut. Lots to think about here. Merci Pa Ikhide
MFA programs don’t teach students how to write stories. It is a forum that gives talented writers the platform to workshop their writing with other talented writers, under the tutelage of an established author. You seem not to know anything about MFAs. You can’t determine if a writer has an MFA from his/her writing. You knew Adichie had an MFA because you took a look at her wikipedia page. That being said, Americanah was a marvelous book and I had little to hate when I read it.
MFA programs do teach you how to write otherwise it would not make you a better writer even if you could write in the first instance.
Do students not study the books of specific writers? If so, it is not just workshops alone. You study different styles of writing and improve yourself if you can.
Students don’t study books of other established writers in MFA programs. It is a forum where writers critique each others work. Yes, it helps develop a writer’s talent but I don’t think there are any set rules which writer’s with MFAs apply in their writing. A writer is a writer; writers with MFAs might have more opportunities to get their work published although this is not always the case.
i believe it is always difficult to write a review about literature- a critical review for the matter- without been accused of some sort of bias, i am glad for this review which is not as conciliatory as most of the reviews i have read, however i thoroughly enjoyed the book but admit the the similarities between Ifemelu and Adichie herself have caused me to observe too many parallels. these parallels make Adichie herself come across as snarky.
importantly however, the book is evocative and that, i most enjoyed about the book. Adichie is a brilliant writer
You write exceedingly well. In the absence of emotional intrigue, you seem to play a safer hand at describing things using words you needn’t, where simpler ones would suffice. It might be considered boring to a lot of people, but I like it. There’s an odd maturity, albeit arrogance in them that’s ever so laid back, like a person who’s seen it all, and is very proud of it.
As far as Adichie goes you try exceedingly hard not to downplay her writing, but it’s obvious that you’re rather tasteless about it. Mind telling me why you don’t have the desire to be an author yourself? I don’t mean to be condescending at all, it’s just that you seem so good at it that I wouldn’t understand why the prevalence of shallow minded people would affect all the fun you ought to have with it.
And lastly. I have the great desire to learn how to write fiction. (Watches you scowl). I live for the books I read, and haven’t read a great many. Do you have any advice, or suggestions on how you became a better writer?
Reblogged this on sindannimwella.
There are moments in the book that fall short of blinding brilliance sure, on the whole it’s still a very well written novel.
I’m about halfway through it and loving it a good lot. Y’know reviews and critiques all have their place but for me as an young African person living in the Diaspora, I’m just glad to see my story told no matter how ‘soap-boxy’ in sections.
Adichie is telling a story that while to some of older generations might be called mimcry/unoriginal is a soothing balm to those of mine.
So another writer tells the tale with greater finese…great! Let them. Getting the stories told is way more important than the author sticking to some ‘fictional’ of code of conduct.
The woman has given voice to her genius which with God’s grace frees up several others to follow suit…make us less invisible y’know.
So I say you too go and write about your own Americanah experience and let’s see.
I absolutely love this response!
Thanks for the review… I just finished the book last evening, and so much of it struck me as being caricature. I would have preferred to read a novel about Auntie Oju and her son Dike, or the backstories of the women who worked in the hair salon.
The blog posts were (imo) especially superficial and snarky. Ifemelu is not a sympathetic character apart from her relationship with Auntie Oju and Dike. I wanted to like her but felt like her inner life was not really developed by the author.
Somewhere in all of this there is a good book waiting to be written – as with the sections about Obinze’s time in England.
Also (not being from Nigeria), I have a feeling that Lagos and its people are much more interesting than the nouveau riches that Adichie focused on. Hoping for a contemporary novel about Nigeria that does more than scratch the surface… which is, unfortunately, what Adichie seems to have done.
n.b.: In her blogger’s examination of race and class, Adichie completely ignores all groups other than “black” and “white.” Where are the Native Americans in her overarching scheme? Or people of mixed heritage? (Native, black, white, Asian.) They are never mentioned… which is a major oversight in a book that gets awfully polemical about both race and class. (I personally found many of the statements about “race” to be pretty galling… has Adichie never been in rural communities where the poorest people are white? They certainly exist, in great numbers – I grew up in an area where the poorest people were white, and despised by other white people who had more stable incomes and lives.) I think Adichie’s understanding of America and its race/class problems is deeply flawed, though certainly correct in places. However, most of the characters – black Americans, white Americans, and Africans – are one-dimensional, and that undercuts the force of her arguments, I think.
Perhaps the reason there is nothing but “black and white” in terms of the racial dialogue is because that is how race is seen by outsiders to the U.S. Nigerians in particular are very guilty of thinking the only real Americans are “white” . e.g. You hear of a Nigerian family whose son married an “american”…. 90 to 1 odds say that the American was white. If the person wasn’t white, they’d be called something else like the terribly rude words “akata” or “kokoye”. So maybe her novel sees things as black and white because that’s how we tend to perceive America, at least on the outside looking in. This means that although her view may be flawed, it’s still real. Either way, I thought this was an excellent review and I look forward to reading your review of Ghana Must Go (if you write one).
Ifemelu (the central character and blogger) clearly states that black americans and black immigrants are the lowest rung on the ladder, compared to Hispanics (of all colors), Asians, etc.
I think one of the problems with that is that the book concentrates on the East Coast – there is no mention of how things are in California, the Pacific Northwest, or the states on the border between the US and Texas. (where Latin Americans – especially Mexicans – and Asians are feared and, all too often, overtly hated.)
and yes, it’s a very real view – and I *don’t* expect the novel to be all-encompassing in this respect.
but Ifemelu comes across as having been very much “Americanized”; the author either doesn’t include other points of reference (in contrast to Ifemelu’s) or else puts the characters who pretty much embody those other povs in a bad light.
I am a die-hard and unrepentant Chimamanda fan! With each new book she’s written I’ve fallen more and more for her sheer story telling power, but sadly to say, Americanah left me disappointed! Let me quickly say that as far as stories go, it was definately an interesting one and kept me turning the page till the very end but it was not enough here. Chimamanda did the one thing I find very hard to accept in anyone, she judged, she judged from her standpoint assuming and asking her readers to assume with her that her own way of thinking was the right way of thinking. One of the reasons I loved “Half of a yellow sun” (a book I’ve read over 3 times!) Was that she told a story which has such a dividing effect on Nigerians in such an impartial manner, to me she just told a story, and it allowed me face the Nigerian civil war without having to face those emotions that have the ability of challenging my belief in this country (or what is left of it). In Americanah, in my humble view, she failed to do this. She constantly puts down the church and all things related to it. Do not get me wrong, I am actually a product of the Nigerian University system as Chimamanda is and fully understand the desire for a peaceful and rational approach to religion but in all of this I realise that there are persons who GENUINELY find solace and comfort in the thearetics of pentecostal worship. I think of the saying “different strokes for different folks” and move on. Chimamanda in putting ddown what she disagreed with again forces us to accept as right what she deems right! There is no acknowledgment of the fact that Ifemelu in shutting Obinze out had actually been the selfish one whose actions had, in latter years, affected Obinze’s wife and daughter! I agree that she can choose for Obinze to follow his true love, but I do not agree that Ifemelu’s selfishness should be overlooked and Obinze’s wife made out to be a senseless bimbet!, and yes, Ifemelu was selfish! It is selfish to shut ppl who love u out of life for whatever reason and then expect to walk into theirs just when it suits u! Trust me there’s no pause button for life! It goes on, with or without u. I’ll conclude by saying, despite my experience with Americanah, I am waiting for Chimamanda’s next book and wld snap it off the shelve once it’s out!
Kika, Your take on this happens to be my best so far. I agree with you in more ways than one. Thanks
Great diplomatic review and honest comments, I couldn’t finish the book though. Dragged on a bit too long, too tediously like Pa said already.
Amazing! I felt like crying after i finished the book. i felt sad that the wonderful tale had come to an end.
Yeah, the beauty of the diversity of life.
[…] gender tensions and related anxieties. I previously shared my views on Adichie’s approach (here). I would say, compared to Adichie, Wood’s approach is more subtle, more sophisticated and […]
“For many African writers, fiction provides a sense of security and a wide, comfortable palette to discuss social/political issues. It is fair however to question whether Adichie should have used the essay format instead of fiction to address all the social anxieties in the book. After Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe stopped using fiction to comment on social and political issues. He wrote brilliant essays as a result. I think Americanah should have been a book of essays. Even at that it would have needed considerable work.”
Quoting you – I don’t write formal reviews on my blog but if I did, those would be my sentiments EXACTLY in terms of the book. I love Adichie’s TED talks and short stories but her novels, at time, feel to me as if they are an excuse for her to say the things one is not supposed to say . Americannah, for a 400+ page book, is remarkably entertaining and fresh. It is one of the more enjoyable novels i’ve read last year. I also appreciate your comparison to Selasi and Bulawayo. Bot, in my opinion, are stronger novel writers (with Selasi being Queen . . seriously, that woman is amazing).
Anyway, great post! I plan to read your Bulawayo review next.
And then again, the problem with reviews is that they are imperfect, full of flaws, too.
Pa Ikhide, the book has “about 500 pages,” but it was worth it. Every page was a page-turner.
You wrote again that she handled issues poorly. You are so wrong. Chimamanda is only a writer that handled issues from her own point of view. She wrote exactly what she would love to read, and that is what makes a good writer. She did not write the book for you, maybe that’s why you got subjective and failed to see that no writer is a god that can handle issues from an all-knowing perspective.
Well, for the feminist thingy, you are perfectly right. This is a problem I have with Chimamanda. She portrays men as animals; as “unwashed cave men”. This was very clear from her collection of short stories “The Thing around your neck.” She sounds like a dark-vision feminist whenever she does this.
Thank you for this review.
I am a Chimamanda fan, and i think your review was a bit harsh Pa Ikhide. I had moments when i yawned reading this book. But i did not want it to come to an end. Let me also remind you, that this novel is fiction. Chimamanda can choose to tell it as she pleases, it does not have to reflect the contemporary time of social media. Its an old tale told in present time hence the absence of the craze with the social media and the conservatism of chat rooms.
I however agree that the book is not a Nigerian book for the very same reason you gave, it pandered too much to the white audience as if it was seeking some kind of authentication from them because Nigerians are not readers.
I will make sure to read NoViolets book-‘We need new names’. You have made quite a rave about it in various posts of yours.
[…] are referring to my review of Americanah. It is frustrating; people only remember the negatives in my reviews, they ignore the praises, why […]
[…] Part four handles her American (relationship) lives in details, first with Curt, later with Blaine. Her blog opens up a window into themes of racism, race, colour, a society enmeshed in a struggle with a horrible past and the present, we encounter a country where even the littlest of issues is going to be viewed with a racial lens, political correctness had never mattered so much in any other place if part four is a yardstick to measure with. I am not versed in matters of America, but there is a stomach feeling of an overdone, an exaggeration of sort about these matters raised in the work in part four, there is a forcefulness about getting these themes across, which in my opinion deducts from the originality of the whole. This is not to submit that the work is to be judged by this part alone, Chimamanda performed goodly well in other parts. To best put the American issues raised in the novel in the right perspective, I suggest reading ￼this. […]