Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche




“Why did people ask "What is it about?" as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

A novel that’s as tender as it is indulgent, Americanah is a transcontinental love story anchored by the protagonist’s, (Ifemeylu) journey from Nigeria to America, and then home again.

While Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog (Various Observations of American Blacks by a Non-American Black) as space to deconstruct the curious ways blackness operates in America, the novel manages to underscore a shared black experience while simultaneously disrupting it. Adichie renders Americanah’s wide cast of characters masterfully, however small their role. She brings out the essences of each, while keeping them round, leaving them feeling both real and familiar. As they each navigate the African Diaspora, a varied immigrant story of otherness, desperation and triumph unfolds. Easily enraptured in their journey, one can’t help but root for their success, wallow in their heartache and feel their sting of societal rejection.


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Quote. Unquote.

Excerpts from Americanah


In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters.


Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.


“If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”


Maybe it’s time to just scrap the word “racist.” Find something new. Like Racial Disorder Syndrome. And we could have different categories for sufferers of this syndrome: mild, medium, and acute.

I realized that if I ever have children, I don't want them to have American childhoods. I don't want them to say 'Hi' to adults I want them to say 'Good morning' and 'Good afternoon'. I don't want them to mumble 'Good' when someone says 'How are you?' to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say 'I'm fine thank you' and 'I'm five years old'. I don't want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative?


They never said “I don’t know.” They said, instead, “I’m not sure,” which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge.


Finally, don’t put on a Let’s Be Fair tone and say “But black people are racist too.” Because of course we’re all prejudiced (I can’t even stand some of my blood relatives, grasping, selfish folks), but racism is about the power of a group and in America it’s white folks who have that power. How? Well, white folks don’t get treated like shit in upper-class African-American communities and white folks don’t get denied bank loans or mortgages precisely because they are white and black juries don’t give white criminals worse sentences than black criminals for the same crime and black police officers don’t stop white folk for driving while white and black companies don’t choose not to hire somebody because their name sounds white and black teachers don’t tell white kids that they’re not smart enough to be doctors and black politicians don’t try some tricks to reduce the voting power of white folks through gerrymandering and advertising agencies don’t say they can’t use white models to advertise glamorous products because they are not considered “aspirational” by the “mainstream.


We are very ideological about fiction in this country. If a character is not familiar, then that character becomes unbelievable.

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