I just finished reading this fabulous novel and couldn’t wait to recommend it to you here on my blog. It’s one of those page turners (the last time I experienced such a captivation – this is a confession – was with E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey), all the while maintaining a steady level of quality writing and clever observations about sensitive issues, such as race, discrimination and alienation.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young people in love, growing up in Nigeria during the military dictatorship. Both of them dream of leaving the country to study abroad in an idealized United States of America, and build a better future for themselves.
Narrated at times by Ifemelu and at times by Obinze, the book takes you on an insightful journey of people experiencing life as strangers in new environments, and then again as strangers when they return back home to Nigeria. Seen through the main characters’ eyes, the story is dotted with sharp observations about the peculiarities of societies and sub-cultures.
In the US, Ifemelu is confronted for the first time with the issue of race. In the UK, Obinze’s fate illustrates the motivations and dangers of illegal migration, and sheds light on a topic that couldn’t be more relevant in view of the current debate about the global “migration crisis”. At a dinner party in London he observes that guests “understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.”
They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.
Having reflected and written a lot about culture shock, reverse culture shock, and what it means to feel at home, here comes a book that makes you see and feel for yourself. As I so often say, sometimes a story is all it takes…