Thoughts On “Americanah”

Here is a book on leaving. On leaving the people you love, the places you grew up in. And on leaving behind the person are.

Ifemelu spends her entire childhood in Nigeria, along with Obinze, her first love. However, the professors at her university are constantly on strike and Ifemelu is given a chance to study in the United States. She takes it, however it is not the life she imagined.

As a person who is desperately afraid of change and everything it brings, this book felt like a slap. Ifemelu has to leave the country she has grown so accustomed to and make a life for herself in an alien society that has very little respect for her. I know this feeling, the feeling of missing everything that is familiar, even if they are not necessarily the best. And also, leaving behind the people you love. Leaving behind the person you are, knowing that this new strange place will change you in ways you may not like.  It is all very difficult and while reading this, I felt the pain of separation. Both for myself and for Ifemelu.

I felt that this was a book also on disillusionment. Ifemelu travels to the United States, expecting something grand and enchanting. Obinze lives in England as an illegal immigrant. Is it really better than the life they lead back home? It really makes me think of why anyone would leave behind the comfort of home, for something that does not seem that much better. Myself included.

And then, Ifemelu decides to come back to Nigeria after living in the U.S. for many years. And the first time she lands in her hometown, I feel that she is disappointed. She is disappointed in the shabbiness, the longing to be modern, the fact that her friends are only concerned about marriages. The memories of Nigeria were always a safe haven when she was going through tough times. Now, it has become an actual place, and she realizes, not what she quite had in mind.

And this was, really, a feminist book. Here is one of my favorite parts.

“No, she didn’t fight. She was on a committee and they discovered that this professor had misused funds and my mother accused him publicly and he got angry and slapped her and said he could not take a woman talking to him like that. So my mother got up and locked the door of the conference room and put the key in her bra. She told him she could not slap him back because he was stronger than her, but he would have to apologize to her publicly, in front of all the people who had seen him slap her. So he did. But she knew he didn’t mean it. She said he did it in a kind of ‘okay sorry if that’s what you want to hear and just bring out the key’ way. She came home that day really angry, and she kept talking about how things had changed and what did it mean that now somebody could just slap another person. She wrote circulars and articles about it, and the student union got involved. People were saying, Oh, why did he slap her when she’s a widow, and that annoyed her even more. She said she should not have been slapped because she is a full human being, not because she doesn’t have a husband to speak for her. So some of her female students went and printed Full Human Being on T-shirts. I guess it made her well-known. She’s usually very quiet and doesn’t have many friends.”

Honestly, I am still considering printing a “FULL HUMAN BEING” shirt for myself.

And perhaps most importantly, this was a book about race. Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s experiences were both painful to read and I felt a sort of righteous anger. But then again, I am white. When I go travelling around the world, I have never had people act a certain way because of my race. I never even knew that afros were considered unprofessional.  The race parts of Americanah, I could only sympathize with.

I had first heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through her talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.” It’s crazy, but everything she says or writes, I find myself agreeing with. I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

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