Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Americanah, begins in a train station in Princeton, New Jersey, where Ifemelu is on her way to Trenton to get her hair braided. This errand, seemingly simple, could stand as a microcosm for a plot that is all about transitions—epic, life-altering journeys from Nigeria to America and London, the transition from high school to college, the evolution of teenage crushes to true love, right down to the minute, but no less significant, detail of where a black girl can get her hair done.
Americanah is an engaging novel about love, change and identity in today’s globalized world that is not to be missed.
Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love as teenagers in Lagos. The military dictatorship in Nigeria made it almost impossible for them to complete college, and both hoped to go to the United States. Ifemelu left Africa first, living in Brooklyn with her aunt and cousin Dike, and then on to college in Philadelphia. The plan was for Obinze to join her, but, unable to get a visa after 9/11, he instead went to London and plunged into the dangerous life of an undocumented immigrant. Both young people did whatever they could to survive, and the subsequent feelings of shame and embarrassment changed their relationship.
Fifteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man with a family in newly democratized Nigeria. Ifemelu is at Princeton, the author of a wildly successful blog about race in America with the wonderful tongue-in-cheek title Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (those formerly known as Negros) by a Non-American Black. She has a sexy academic boyfriend and a lively and diverse group of friends. But she is homesick for Nigeria, and realizes that her thoughts of returning are all wrapped up in her unresolved feelings for Obinze.
As she did with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie creates a multigenerational tale, spanning three continents and incorporating the complicated politics of Lagos, the slippery codes of race and class, and the emotional network of family and friends. The novel is stuffed with characters—single mothers, students, hairdressers, cab drivers, academics—each a perfectly realized portrait in a lively tapestry. Adichie’s observations are needle-sharp when it comes to race, but her empathy makes Americanah—a term that is used for Nigerians who go to America and return with an exaggerated sense of superiority—a warm and surprisingly funny read. Americanah is an engaging novel about love, change and identity in today’s globalized world that is not to be missed.