As I finished reading Americanah, I did just the thing that Ifem advised against in one of her blog entries. I compared my own immigrant experience against all the immigrant experiences that came at me in the book. Why?
I bought and read Americanah as an assignment. My friend and I had decided to write book reviews, and we wanted to start with something neutral that neither of us would normally pick. She was given the book as a gift, and I thought, why not. After all, it has been quite a while since I’ve read a cultural, literary novel.
I’ve never really taken to literary novels, and I thought that I had grew out of cultural novels. I tend to prefer settings that my imagination could run away with, and stories that drew on the bigger picture of humanity. Individual stories that are relatable to most just don’t usually carry any interest for me.
So, when I started reading Americanah, I was shocked to find that I was hooked to Adichie’s writing style, her words flowing in my mind, effortlessly, and beautifully. I tried to fight this attraction, feeling ashamed at my lack of integrity in protecting my love for genre, but it was in vain. I was hooked. Three days later, I finished the book and feel a certain amount in satisfaction in having read it.
The story is a simple telling of the oldest most relatable tale, a love story. It started in high school, but grew apart as Ifemelu reacts to circumstances in the only ways that she knew how to. Both protagonists lead individual lives that pull them apart to the US and the UK, and then bring them back to comfortable lives back at home in Nigeria, but their dance is one that everyone seeks to have. First love.
The story is endearing because it speaks of current issues. It’s difficult to not be pulled into the joys of seeing a black president be elected, marking an era that is our generation’s to live. The fight for identity is one that we all know well, and doesn’t just apply to minority groups anymore. Culture, race, socio-politics, aren’t just tagged against certain skin colours, but come as baggage through our upbringing, through nationality, ethnicity, history, education… everything.
Adichie let’s us experience all the misgivings of an immigrant’s life, through the comforts of mediated lens. Her writing so biting and witty that it makes you consider the different points of view, and before you know it, start questioning your own perspective of what is right, wrong, or realise that you want to get corn-braids just to experience your hair being pulled.
Though it is easy to think of Ifemelu’s move back to Nigeria as a brave one, leaving behind the comforts of the new American life that she had created, in truth, Ifemelu was a coward, for all she wanted was to return to Obinze, the love that she had abandoned and tortured. As it is a story of true love, it cannot be spurned. Let Ifemelu and Obinze be our Romeo and Juliet of today.