It’s difficult to describe Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award winning novel, “Americanah” because multiple themes are threaded throughout the novel. From immigration, race, class, objectification, identity, power, and finally love, “Americanah” gives an in depth look of the immigrant experience from the perspective of the story’s main character, Ifemelu. At the core of the story is her love for Obinze, an innocent connection which deteriorated after a shameful incident. Ifemelu cut off contact with her beloved Obinze and pushed him away. The novel unfolds as the two lovers go throughout their lives without one another until Ifemelu decides to move back to Lagos, in an effort to rekindle their relationship.
Over time it becomes clear why Obinze is the love of her life because in all of Ifemelu’s romantic relationships, she adapts the habits and tastes of her suitors and changes for them. Yet, a part of her remains critical and observant, qualities which aid her in starting her own blog on race and class in America. Her ability to critically analyze, is her true self.
Ifemelu is a challenging woman to love. She acts impulsively and is often selfish. Obinze knows and recognizes her for who she is, their relationship easy in the way only a true partner, a perfect fit can be. Her other partners are a testament to patriarchal norms which require women to be blindly devoted to their male partners, to lose themselves in the lives of their husbands and the whims of their children, to see the female self as substandard and not worthy of adequate care or attention. It is clear Obinze is in love with her from the beginning. His love, clear and present. She grows to love him and in order to fully commit, Ifemelu takes the time to sort herself out first. She learns to love and commit to herself, leaving her successful life behind in the States and going back to Lagos for Obinze. Yet, due to their time apart, the romance between the two is not an easy one and their reunion is messy.
I found the novel enjoyable yet, I often became confused about the time period. Over the course of several chapters, the characters exist in one time period and then the very next chapter, the characters exist in a flashback. The back and forth was often disorienting. And while this love story is epic, it could have done well with 100-200 pages removed. Obinze’s story in England barely kept my eyes open except for his interactions with an old high school classmate, Emenike. A man who prided himself on knowing information no one else possessed, Emenike is an ironic foreigner from Nigeria, who moves to Britain, and immediately sheds his culture, language and heritage and starts collecting the mannerisms, a white partner, and speech patterns he believes will deem him valuable. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him during this deliberate transformation.