This week I finally got around to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s third novel, Americanah. It is such a rich novel, and so full of life. The protagonists Ifemelu and Obinze meet at school in Nigeria and fall in love. Some years later, Ifemelu has the chance to study in America; because Nigeria’s universities were so patchy in this period, with many teachers striking for not getting paid, lots of students left to learn in other countries. Obinze plans to get his visa and meet Ifemelu in America later, because he always wanted to live there. But Ifemelu finds living in America as an immigrant difficult so she one day stops calling her boyfriend, stops writing to him. Obinze can’t get an American visa, but he does manage to get a six-month British visa. This is the story of them coming together and falling apart and, with Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria ten years later, coming together again.
Ifemelu’s experiences in America show the highs and lows of the American dream: Ifemelu’s aunt, a doctor in Nigeria, struggles to work many jobs simultaneously whilst struggling to pass American medical exams. Ifemelu finds herself a self-made woman by writing a successful blog. This idea of a blog I found interesting because it seems that many authors are hesitant in using technology in novels. I appreciated that Adiche made Ifemelu’s blog such an important part of the novel, showing various posts, it made the novel seem more representative of contemporary life than if Ifemelu had had a different career.
‘You can work, you are legal, you are visible, and you don’t even know how fortunate you are.’
Adiche gets so much right here. The novel is much fuller, more masterful, than her first two novels. I have spent only a small amount of time in America (i.e. minutes) and no time at all in Africa so I can’t say how far she accurately represents either Nigeria or America. As somebody who lives in Britain I felt that her portrayal of Britain was so accurate: she shows Obinze meeting working class characters (at work) and middle class characters (at a dinner party) and it made me realise how big a part class still plays in this country, in a way that is perhaps difficult to objectively pin down if you live here. The British characters and front-page headlines constantly chattering about immigration were particularly well-observed. Obinze’s experiences in living and being deported from Britain after his visa ran out seemed like such an awful experience, a side of life which doesn’t feature much in the headlines.
Above all, I think that Americanah is a love story. I like that Adiche writes a love story and touches on wider issues too, such as immigration and changes in society; but she keeps the love story as the main focus of the novel. I have read all of Adiche’s previous books: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and her book of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, and I think that Americanah is her best work to date. I can’t wait for the next one.