From the first page of Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sweeps readers away with immersive prose spanning continents and cultures, and delving deep into the search for identity that characterizes the immigrant experience.
Ifemelu and Obinze are college sweethearts in Nigeria, but then life takes them in different directions–Ifemelu to America and Obinze to England and then back to Nigeria. When Ifemelu makes plans to return to Nigeria for good after many years, she contacts Obinze and this complicates both their lives as they struggle with regret, painful experiences, and water under the bridge.
The novel is characterized by longing–the longing for home, the longing for a stable self-concept in the swirl of cultural change, migration and globalization, the longing to belong with another. What could be a heavy read is lightened delightfully by Adichie’s Jane Austen-esque social commentary and keen observation of people–Americans, Nigerians, black, white, rich, poor, liberal, conservative–no one escapes notice in her vivid description of human foibles and ambitions, and yet everyone is treated with a measure of understanding that makes the teasing not mean-spirited.
Adichie portrays her characters as the flawed but fascinating fully-orbed people they are. This story is an antidote to thinking of immigrants as “flat”–either fully good or fully bad. Instead, they are gloriously and frustratingly complex. I found myself pausing to ponder the incredible resiliency of the human spirit, and then wanting to throw the book across the room a few pages later when characters I loved made choices that would lead to difficult consequences for themselves and others.
Warning: Don’t start this book if you are not ready to stay up half the night to finish it. But dive in if you’re ready for a complicated and rich portrayal of the pain and beauty of living in a multicultural, migrating world.