I’ve been struggling to write this review for Chimamanda Ngozi’ Adichie’s newest novel Americanah for over a month now. It’s simply because I found it so stunning, I can’t adequately describe why. At its essence, it’s a story about belonging or not belonging. While her prior novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, was set only in Nigeria, this one includes America and England as well.
Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love as high school classmates in Lagos. It’s no teenage infatuation, but a relationship with lasting consequences. Ifemelu earns a scholarship in America, while Obinze works at getting a visa to join her. He’s denied entry to the US, but manages to illegally get to London. She finds herself unable to find steady work and descends into a deep depression as she succumbs to a desperate act for money. Later she finds work as a nanny to a sympathetic rich family, while writing a blog about being black in America. She incisively writes about racism and sexism, detailing the expensive and lengthy procedure of relaxing kinky African hair to conform to cultural standards.
After some failed relationships, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, finding an equally bewildering society with a ballooning economy and a nouveau riche class. Here she and Obinze circle each other, the teenage love not at all having abated over the years.
While the love story is central to the novel, Adichie also deftly navigates the ideas of belonging and identity, in countries and in people. The stories of Ifemelu and Obinze are told so well, and Adichie’s overarching ideas never overtake the glorious writing. It’s her best book yet.
[Ed. note: The author will be appearing at Harvard Book Store on May 22nd at 7 pm. She’s such a pleasant author to meet, so if you live in the area, you should come.]