I don’t know how I feel about Americanah…am I allowed to say that? Am I allowed to say that I am not immediately bowled over by it or transported by it? I don’t know.
I put it down…several times. I put it aside to read something else or do other things and now, although I have been reading it for the last few hours, I have put it aside again to write about it.
I’m not saying that it is not a well written book, it is extremely well written….but somehow it is different…maybe this is what it is meant to be.
This isn’t a review of the book, I do not have the breadth of experience to review a book by someone far more skilled than myself.
Americanah is odd. It doesn’t attempt to make itself relatable. It seems to wander from one place to another, from one perspective, one emotional and mental place to another, as if when she was writing it, Ms Adichie herself put it down and picked it up over and over again, and as if each time that she picked it up, she was a different person.
It seems to meander, almost to drift, but it does not…it is just taking the scenic route to a place that we might or might not see, depending on where we are when we get to the end.
I suspect that it is not meant to be completely relatable. Some parts I picture immediately, my father was a lecturer in the University and so I can relate to Obinze’s mum, because many of my parent’s friends spoke like her…of journals and conferences. I remember the strikes, first as a child wondering why my father wasn’t at work again, reading the stickers that appeared on the doors “My take home pay can’t take me home” and feeling the slight awkwardness with protesting, as if they didn’t quite remember how…then I became a student, and the strikes meant that I was at home longer than I should have, but not as long as old friends in other universities with more militant lecturers.
I read Ifemelu’s accounts as she arrived and then adapted and then created her own identity and I know that I cannot relate to it because I have only ever lived here and so I have never had to adapt to someone else’s culture or way of life. But I can see the truth in Ifemelu’s answers, her thoughts ring true as well. I just have a little trouble seeing the person she is when she is in America.
The parts about hair tend to grate a bit, but that is mostly because I am getting tired of the whole natural hair/relaxed hair debate. There seems to be a carefully worded campaign for all of us to revert to kinkiness, a message that says “yes I felt it was silly too but then I fell in love with my Africanness the first time I touched my head and felt tight curls instead of silk”. It’s not balanced…it’s very obviously on the side of natural hair and I feel slightly irritated that even here I can’t escape the various advertisements and arguments about the Afro.
Maybe this is what makes Americanah a great book. Perhaps Ms Adichie does not intend us to get lost in the book. Perhaps she means some parts to jar and some parts to make us smile in nostalgia. Perhaps she means some parts to make us think about perspectives that we have experienced but never thought through.
It’s possible it’s just me sha
I find it quite political and somehow I find the book shifting in perspective from a story to a veiled political statement and back and it is in some of these places that I disconnect from the story and put the book down and go off and do something.
Some parts of Obinze’s story sound unreal. Did she mean them to sound that way? Or am I too immersed in Ifemelu to connect fully to this guy who seems to be less substantial as an adult than he was as a youth?
I don’t know what Americanah is. And perhaps that is part of my problem; that I cannot define it. Perhaps it bothers me that it is more complex, more layered and less clearcut than her other work.
I do recognize that this is an incredibly written book, if for no other reason than that I am sitting here at 1.30 in the morning with no light, trying to take it apart in my head to see if I can put it back together in a way that I understand.
Americanah does not engage my heart or my emotions. It engages my mind and I find myself thinking not so much about the characters and their lives and their stories, but about the book itself, about the perspectives and opinions that Ms Adichie has put out. I am not lost in the story, I am standing outside, watching this girl and pondering her impressions, perspectives and motivations.
I find myself thinking about lecturers that no longer write in journals and the wave of hopelessness that drove Nigerians out of the country in droves in the 90s. I compare that in my head to the many leaving now and I find myself asking if the Nigerians who left earlier look at the Nigerians leaving now and are as saddened and surprised by them as we are back here. I find myself contemplating the dynamics of race in a context where I am not automatically correct because after all I am a Nigerian woman in Nigeria. I muse briefly on the thought that perhaps my blog needs to become more specific, more niched (I know that‘s not a word but it says so rightly what I want to say so I ‘m keeping it).
I’m uninterested in Curt, he is a sideline to the story…even Blaine is somehow incidental…I don’t know if he is meant to be.
It annoys me how Ifemelu’s father moves from sounding wise to sounding quaint, I roll my eyes when Ifemelu specifies that she will be using a satin bonnet to cover her hair after she has braided it. There are very many people in the story and it’s a bit hard to keep track of all of them and their various ideologies.
And this might be just because I’ve lost my sense of romance…temporarily misplaced it, but I kinda wished Ifemelu and Obinze didn’t end up together…I mean, how often does it happen like that in real life? I know, it’s fiction, not real life
I’m a bit shocked to realise that I have written 3 pages on this book and that I could write a few more without feeling like I have successfully taken it apart.
Somehow I get the feeling that Ms Adichie has done something quite unprecedented with this book.
I still don’t know how I feel about this book; maybe I’m not meant to feel.