Americanah is an ode to the immigrant – beautifully dissecting the experience(s) that immigrants encounter . Set in 3 different places; America, England & Nigeria. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie manages to paint the picture and tell the untold immigrant story with great nuance.
Reading the book, I wondered if non- immigrants would ‘get’ the book. Like the time when , Ifemelu , feels she has to exaggerate the number of years she has been in the United States – you see the longer you have been in a country – you climb an elusive hierarchy of sorts.
Americanah is essentially a book about long distance love, Race and hair. She gives an interesting take on the different vantage points between African Americans & Africans for example. A look at a love suffocated and unceremoniously discarded as a result of distance.Throughout the book Adichie poses an interesting reality – does that sort of love ever really end?
Hair takes a very central role in the book, in this case – natural hair. When we first meet Ifemelu – she is making her way from Princeton to Trenton to braid her hair. Princeton with its clean, leafy streets and stately homes does not have a braiding salon – she has to make her way to the not so leafy Trenton to braid her hair. This could be in any part of the western world – hoards of black women make the pilgrim at least once a month to get their hair done. Making the journey from the leafy suburbs to the not so leafy areas of their city- from Twickenham to Tooting ( London ), Arrondissement de Passy to Chatelet-les-Halles ( Paris) etc. ( add your city here…!)
Natural hair or the defeating of it – is focal to the book. She interestingly juxtaposes assuredness with the wearing of one’s own hair.
Americanah brings to the forefront what some reviews have dubbed ‘a new type of immigrant’ . These are immigrants from generally middle class families , well educated , not fleeing wars or persecution. Most of these immigrants have migrated to get a better higher education or for various economic reasons. The truth is that this is not a ‘new type of immigrant’ – as far back as the 60’s etc upwardly mobile immigrants have been migrating for better opportunities . The reality is some of them have had to settle for ‘menial ‘jobs as a means whilst they are trying to fully settle.
A secondary character, but one that interested me the most is Emenike . Emenike, a man who wouldn’t have had half the success at home is living in London. He is married to an English lady almost 10 years his senior and has the deepest illusion of inclusion and no longer considers himself Nigerian , I doubt he considers himself African at all! We all know an Emenike I guess!
Americanah is true to the immigrant reality. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has done it again! A great read – every single page.