by Namrata Verghese
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. 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.”
Therein lies the crux of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s luminous third novel, Americanah, an incisive, insightful dissection of race, blackness, and transnational identity: when Ifemelu, the novel’s protagonist, left Nigeria for America, she “became black.”
Totaling close to five hundred pages, Adichie’s Americanah is a hefty, ambitious novel that traverses three continents and three decades. It ties together universal themes of identity, belonging, and displacement with an overarching, compelling love story: Ifemelu and Obinze meet and fall in love as school children in Nigeria. She’s a feisty, outspoken spitfire; he’s an introspective, charismatic bookworm. When Ifemelu leaves to pursue studies in the U.S., the two promise to keep in touch, but lose contact as years go by. In the novel’s present, Ifemelu is preparing to return to Nigeria, after spending years establishing herself as a popular blogger on race and blackness in the U.S. from the perspective of a “Non-American Black.” The novel delves into the past through extended flashbacks as Ifemelu creates a new life in her homeland, along with a rekindled connection with her old flame, who is now a wealthy, married real estate developer in Nigeria. Past and present collide as the two reignite their love.
From renowned author Adichie, recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, Americanah is a story emblematic of today’s globalized society. It subverts stereotypes, challenges assumptions, and revels in its utter humanity. Bold, deeply-felt, and laugh-out-loud funny at times, it’s Adichie’s most powerful novel yet. If it doesn’t change the way you look at the world, you’re reading it wrong.
Namrata is a rising junior and Robert W. Woodruff Scholar at Emory University, pursuing a double major in English/Creative Writing and Psychology/Linguistics. An aspiring writer, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in storySouth, Litro Magazine, NY Literary Magazine, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. She loves reading, coffee, and Bollywood music (and combining all three at the same time!).