Fiction Americanah

Published on April 19th, 2013


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Blurb: As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

Other books by the author

Diana Evans, The Times

Adichie writes superb dialogue straight from the mouths of her people, with idiom and colloquialisms; there are no apologetic italics. She brings to life the sycophants and social climbers at a posh Lagos party as vividly as she does the obsequious immigrant and cringey middle-class Londoners at an Islington soirée … For a “black” woman to be writing in this way, placing herself at the centre of contemporary consciousness with the same brazenness as an Updike or a Carver, is wildly refreshing and commands respect. We need much more of it. This is a delicious, important novel from a writer with a great deal to say.

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David Annand, The Daily Telegraph

Using an old-fashioned love story as her vehicle, Adichie has created a kaleidoscopic work that looks at race from all angles: the formal ingenuity of the blog posts cleverly licenses her Kundera-like mini-essays, each of which enriches the themes of the narrative, and her particular perspective on being black in America is full of new insight and great wisdom.

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Elizabeth Day, The Observer

 It is to Adichie’s immense credit that such a sprawling, epic book remains so tightly structured. There are, perhaps, one too many of Ifemelu’s blogposts and a few extra scenes here and there that could have been cut, but part of Americanah’s appeal is its immense, uncontained and beating heart. You can feel Adichie’s passion and belief pumping beneath every paragraph. Americanah is a deeply felt book, written with equal parts lyricism and erudition. 

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Malcolm Forbes, Literary Review

Americanah is a large, ambitious book that traces its characters’ trajectories from youth into adulthood, while at the same time charting the recent political and cultural changes of developed and developing countries. It ’s no small feat, but then Adichie also challenged herself by setting the events of her masterly second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, against the horrors of the Biafran War. The segments in Americanah focusing on Obinze feel somewhat underwritten, particularly his rags-to-riches arc. However, Ifemelu’s journey to the New World and back is ample compensation.

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Sam Leith, The Financial Times

In Adichie’s able prose, social comedy mingles with cultural polemic under the umbrella of an exuberantly romantic love story. It’s a novel about race and deracination, homesickness, the experience of, and need for, feeling at home. It’s also a novel that wants to tell you things. Here, in rich detail, is the immigrant experience: the humiliation of poverty as Ifemelu finds her feet in the US; her romantic history and her coming of age; the way she experiences her race, for the first time, as difference. Here, too, is the edgy comedy of her Nigerian childhood.

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Alex Clark, The Guardian

Americanah is a book that works better when it is in transit, detailing people and situations who are in the act of becoming. Its structure is complex and sometimes unwieldy; there is much looping backwards and forwards in time as Ifemelu sits in the hair salon, and one feels slightly lost once her braids are finished and the narrative has moved on. Similarly, some characters are glimpsed too fleetingly to make a lasting impression … Nonetheless, this is an impressive novel – although very different from Adichie’s Orange prize-winning Half of a Yellow Sun, it shares some of its freewheeling, zesty expansiveness.

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Daneet Steffens, The Independent

Adichie’s writing always has an elegant, accessible shimmer to it. Even her shortest turns of phrase evoke a much larger, encompassing image … If Americanah’s end comes rather predictably, and in a bit of a rush, the novel overall remains wise, entertaining and unendingly perceptive.

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Arifa Akbar, The Independent

Through the book’s humour and its keen ear for dialogue, Americans begin to resemble the unfathomable Japanese “others” in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, though for the most part Adichie manages not to reduce them into caricatures.

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Francine Prose, The Sunday Times

… Her observations about race are fresh and incisive — though our eagerness to find out what happens to the lovers might cause us to skim, a bit guiltily, through Ifemelu’s blog posts, especially in the second half of the novel.

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Claire Lowdon, The New Statesman

“No issue is left uncovered. Everything is held to account. And Adichie’s observations are always sharp, intelligent, humorous and humane. They will challenge the way you think about race and show you a radically defamiliarised version of western society, as seen through African eyes. An issues novel, then, that is unashamedly open about its intentions. Formally, Americanahis baggy. The story often feels like a vehicle for the discussion. There are wobbles, moments when the whole book risks losing its balance.”

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Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard

Two different writers within Adichie seem to be struggling with each other in Americanah: one preoccupied by inflammatory themes about society; the other concerned with characters and emotions. They don’t gel, as they could.

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Hannah McGill, The Scotsman

The bulk of the story is told from her perspective, and partly in her blog posts; and her relentlessly harsh judgment of those who surround her gives matters a distinctly sour tang. Obviously, outright racism ticks Ifemelu off; but so too do naively bleeding-hearted white liberals who gesture towards making amends for racism, intellectuals who have theories about race, activists who protest about race issues, people who don’t mention race, and people who think that other things apart from race matter … Romantic love is the one chink through which Adichie allows some optimism to enter a thoughtful and impressively layered but finally rather soul-sapping book.

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Anthony Cummins, The Spectator

Obinze’s fitfully brilliant story stands out partly because he’s so lonely much of the time. Ifemelu’s more disputatious thread shows that dialogue isn’t Adichie’s strongest suit; it serves here mainly as a vessel for observations on the assumptions black people have to put up with. One minor character — an African-American novelist — more or less confirms that Adichie isn’t going for subtlety when he launches into a speech about an editor who asked him to soften his treatment of racism for the sake of nuance. The loud implication is that subtlety’s for middle-class white dudes who don’t know they’re born.

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