Postcolonial Women Writers 5.0: Americanah

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Goodreads Rating: 4.3

Hardcover – 588 pages
Published May 14th, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf

Published in 29 languages.

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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, 2013
Listed among the New York Times Book Review’s “Ten Best Books of 2013”
Winner of The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction, 2013
An NPR “Great Reads” Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best
Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year Pick
Winner of the “One Book, One New York” campaign 2017

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. —


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Something that becomes obvious in the beginning of Americanah is Ifemelu’s struggle with assimilating in the United States. She specifically has difficulties with money and the consequences of which leave her in a place where she can no longer explain her life in the United States to her boyfriend, Obinze. The way she leaves him, by ignoring him until he stops reaching out to her, left me extremely disappointed in her character. I could see, but not relate to, her turmoil being in a new environment, but I thought this would make her want to hold onto her past as much as she could, rather than rid herself of it.

Ifemelu’s mindset and explanations made her seem self-righteous, judgmental, and extremely immature and therefore, not relatable. Despite some confusing choices the protagonist makes, I was able to learn a lot from Americanah.

At first, the timeline was confusing. The frame story in the beginning of the novel is interesting because Ifemelu is sitting in a hair salon recalling the details of her life—specifically her past mistakes—while observing her surroundings. The inclusion of Ifemelu’s seeming contemplation about her own life decisions creates a powerful narrative of her life. In later parts of the novel, however, it was unclear if Ifemelu was still in the frame story or if the novel had actually caught up with her life. 

The historical strands of the novel show through Adichie’s writing. Adichie does a great job of highlighting and explaining these aspects for those who are unaware of the cultural or historical significance of Americanah. 

One way Ifemelu is able to cope with her new life in the United States is via blog posts (on WordPress!!!). Her blog focuses on and is titled “The Subject of Blackness in America” (Adichie 298). Adichie ingeniously incorporates blog posts in the novel—where her insight shines through the most. Many of Ifemelu’s blog posts are geared towards informing readers about the significance of race in the United States. 

Adichie is uniquely positioned to compare racial hierarchies in the United States to social striving in her native Nigeria. She does so in this new work with a ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides of both nations. —The Washington Post

In her posts, the problematic ways in which all black people are seemingly grouped together in the United States, rather than being allowed their own identities, is shown. The hierarchical social systems in the United States—regarding gender, race, and class—are also described in depth. These themed blog posts, under the guise of “Understanding America for the Non-American Black,” include: “American Tribalism” (Adichie 227), “What Do WASPs Aspire To?” (Adichie 253), and “A Few Explanations of What Things Really Mean” (Adichie 435).

Specifically, Ifemelu describes how the racial struggle for black Americans is much different than that of black non-Americans. Ifemelu explicitly states the difference being that black Americans have lived with race for their entire lives, whereas black non-Americans have not. Therefore, when black non-Americans try to assimilate, there are many stereotypes they do not understand because they have never had to deal with them growing up in other countries—where they may not have even been considered black. 

I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. —Americanah, 292

After being extremely excited to read this novel, I am unhappy to say that I am among the people who disliked it. 

For the first 3/4, I thought this might be the best book I’d read all year. Unfortunately, I was less enthralled by the last section, when Ifem and Obinze finally find themselves in the same city–Lagos–and the sprawling, meandering, hilarious story abruptly shrinks in scope. Still, I loved getting to know Ifem and Obinze and the large cast of characters spread out across three continents. This is definitely worth reading. —Kirstin Chen, Author of Bury What We Cannot Take and Soy Sauce for Beginners


I wish Adichie had just written a memoir with her prolific insights, rather than Americanah with binary scenes of either thought-provoking criticism of racism in the United States or the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze. I disliked this arrangement and it felt more reflective of Adichie’s life and experiences in the United States than a fictional novel. 

Regardless of how I feel about Americanah as an actual novel, I still highly recommend it! I learned a lot. I just think I was expecting more after reading and loving Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and We Should All Be Feminists.

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Purple Hibiscus (2003)

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

The Thing Around Your Neck (2009)

We Should All Be Feminists (2014)

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017)

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