When this Americanah book first came out to glowing reviews and recommendations all over, I did not read it. I did not want to be disappointed, because no one has the guts to criticize Africa’s most celebrated author at the moment. When you have high expectations for a book, you set yourself up for disappointment. So I let the book lie for months and months, but eventually I plucked up the courage to start it.
It wasn’t long before I got buried into the book, absorbing and relating to the stories the characters went through, especially the experiences based in Africa. It was Nigeria but it could easily be Kenya; there was a time when people went “abroad” in droves for “further studies” and returned with Americanah accents and mannerisms. And they still do, but many have discovered their African identities and whey they come back home, they don’t need to exaggerate their Atlantic drawls, except if they’re working at Capirrol FM. But I digress.
Ifemelu (of Ifemsco as her friends call her) and Obinze were high school sweethearts in Nigeria. They came from middle class families, went to fairly good schools, were happy and carefree and young. But following Nigeria turbulent ruling history (coups, counter-coups, foiled-coups, military rule until 1999 when it transitioned to civilian rule), many Nigerians left for abroad to further their studies and start a new life. Among them was Ifemelu, who joined her aunt, Uju and nephew who had already emigrated earlier.
Ifemelu learns what being black in America is. I mean, we know we are black here in Kenya, we are Africans, but there is no weight of judgement, association and prejudice attached to it. Until you’re in America and realize how race affects your everyday life, your relationships, associations, employment etc. Tough times make Ifemelu do some things to survive, and she grows further and further away from Obinze, whom she initially communicated with.
Obinze finished his university course and tried to get to the States, but couldn’t make it. He turned instead to the UK; obviously the next choice. There is something heart breaking about heading out to a foreign country with no concrete plan, job or school, except to “make it”. And Obinze struggles to make it, until he can’t anymore and goes back to Nigeria.
Obinze is now a big man in Nigeria; he has the land, the connections, the Range Rover, the house(s), the beautiful wife, the perfect daughter. Has he managed to bury his love for Ifemelu underneath all the success?
Ifemelu has been to America, has conquered it, achieved success and a meaningful relationship, and even citizenship. She can stay as long as she wants in America. But home is home you know? The dust, the heat, the people, the hustle and bustle of Lagos.. and Obinze. She knows she must go back home. She packs up her bags and heads of Nigeria.
The story unfolds from there.. Obinze is married but Ifemelu is back in town. How will it end?
I stayed up late gobbling up the book, I couldn’t get enough of it. It did not disappoint, and it proved just how capable Chimamanda is at weaving a lovely tale that captivates and characters that will stick in our minds forever. I’ll probably re read this book sometime in the future.