I think this is the first novel I have picked for the book club which I have really liked and found few faults with. It is a novel that follows two Nigerian characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers in love who drift apart when the former goes to pursue further education in America. Mostly the novel focusses on Ifemelu and her new life in America, though there is some description of their lives in Nigeria, and a section dedicated to Obinze’s abortive few months in London.
Every novel is political, no matter how much it might try to disguise this fact, but this one wears its politics on its sleeve. It is about race in America, and it acutely describes the hybridity and feeling of being stuck between two cultures that is endemic to being a migrant. The open discussion and debate is at its most overt in her blogposts; her blog specifically sets out to discuss race in America from the point of view of a "Non-American Black", as Ifemelu describes herself. However, even without the reoccurring posts that appear throughout the novel, its focus throughout is to explore the lived experiences of black people – American and Non-American – inclusive of everything from the way Ifemelu wears her hair and the implications of this, her relationship with her white female employer, or the disconnect she feels between her own experience and that of her black American boyfriend. More than anything – as suggested by its title – the novel is about America, and it is most interested in dissecting its views and making observations about the way it works. Nigeria and the UK are touched upon, but to a lesser extent (though perhaps there is some interesting analysis to come out of this).
From what I can tell by Goodreads reviews, the overt nature of the politics in the novel and the way it refuses to shy away from any of it (or tell you it in some sort of backward way) irritates some people , and comes at the cost of plot or characterisation. I personally don’t agree; I raced through the novel and found it kept me interested throughout, and I felt that it didn’t need to be anything other than what it was. This is not a quiet coming-of-age story that wants to build a thorough and nuanced characterisation, but nonetheless I did not feel Ifemelu or Obinze were lazily drawn, or unrealistic. The plot is somewhat episodic, picking up moments or running through important periods of the characters’ lives, but this allows for Adichie to encourage discussion and debate.
This is the kind of book I read recreationally most of the time leading up to my degree, and reading it I fell back into enjoying a novel that had really important things to say, but also entertained me (much of it is funny!). I read Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus way back in 2005, when I was eleven, and I remember loving it. Her writing style is rich, fluid and relaxed without being overwrought, and if you have read Americanah but not Purple Hibiscus or Half a Yellow Sun, I think you would enjoy them, too. Overall, I found it to be a very accessible novel that made me want to keep reading, whilst at the same time educating, exploring and dissecting. It is not wildly complex; in fact it is unusually straightforward about its own goals, and I think sometimes that can only be a good thing.