• Ruth

I read "Americanah" again and it hit home even harder this time

So yeah... I am that girl who reads a book she loves several times despite having an ever-growing pile of books to read.


And like the first 3 times I read "Americanah", when I closed it, my eyes were misty and my lips where quivering. I was, after all bidding goodbye to Ifemelu and Obinze. I was genuinely sad to put down a book that tells one of the most beautiful love story I have ever read.


Published in 2013, the "Americanah" tells the story of Ifemelu

A young Nigerian woman who decides to leave the USA and go back to her home country.

Her return seems sudden and incomprehensible since she seems to have made it : she is an influential race blogger, she owns her apartment and she dates a handsome and intelligent African-american. A true picture of integration, that Ifemelu.


But one soon starts to understand that the unrest she feels actually has to do with the fact that she has never truly felt like she belonged to the USA. Plus she seems to long for her (now married) high school love, Obinze.


One thing to know about me is that I am a romantic. I enjoy love stories and I love watching or reading about people falling in love. So that was the appeal of the book for me at first.


But "Americanah" is so much more than a mere love story...

It is a perfect and accurate depiction of immigration, racial issues and identities that takes place on three continents. Because not only do we follow Ifemelu's journey from Nigeria to the USA, Adichie also takes us with Obinze as he emigrates illegally to the UK.


This is why the book hit home much harder this time.

Because I read it after George Floyd murder and the massive civic rights movements that followed that horrific event in many parts of the world.


"Americanah"'s takes on racial identity and racism are still painfully accurate


In her blog, (Raceteenth, or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) By a Non-American Black), Ifemelu, writes (among other subjects) about:

  • white privilege

  • the discomfort in talking about race, even (or especially) with close friends or family members

  • the differences between Africans or African-Americans

  • or color-blindness

Reading a book written in 2013 that resonates so well on those topics in 2020 saddened me deeply and discouraged me. For instance, I literally shook my head when I read that line from Ifem's blog :

"If you seek legal or medical help, do you worry that your race might work against you?"
When you sue the "nude" color of underwear and Band-Aids, do you already know that it will not match your skin ?"

Even the fact that Band aid finally broadened their range to include darker skinned people didn't cheer me up. Come on Band Aid marketing people... Didn't that occur to you before ? Really ?!


What I find brilliant about that book is that these observations also apply to France


There are differences, of course. The histories of black populations are very different whether they are in Europe or across the Atlantic. And maybe the racial stereotypes aren't rooted in the same representations. But they are still very present and vivid in France too.


As well as the discomfort in talking about race. Especially in France, a country that doesn't do racial statistics, that believes in assimilation and doesn't see color, by essence.


I loved the fact that Adichie also specifically brushed the topic of race in Europe and even underlined the differences between the two continents. Like when Obinze is invited at a bourgeois English dinner at Emenike's, his old friend from Nigeria and muses about those very differences :

A white boy and a black girl who grow up in the same working-class town in this country (England) can get together and race will be completely secondary. But in America, even if the white boy and black girl grow up in the same neighborhood, race would be primary.

I also enjoyed reading the (extremely accurate) portraits of immigrants that Adichie brushed.


I mean, I have lived some of those situations or know people who have. She describes the many roads one can take as an immigrant :

  • The child who is born to immigrant parents and who caries the huge responsibility to succeed and to make it in a society THEY couldn't penetrate

  • The child who emigrates at a very young age and is adaptable enough to blend in, yet not completely. And who finds themselves stuck between two worlds

  • The young student, who has a harder time adapting to the newness of everything. And who has to find ways to fend for herself financially

  • Older people who emigrate without any qualification, which condemns them to harsh jobs and hard lives. Especially when they emigrate illegally.

I also marveled at the depiction of the changes that can occur in the people who emigrate. The book shows how hard this path can be and how can it can affect the people who chose to take them. Down to the way they look or the way they morph their behavior or accent to fit in.


And, in a beautiful full circle, Adichie also depicts the cases of the returnees, those, like Ifem, who choose to go back to their home country.


She depicts how hard it can be to fit back in to a country where one was born. The adaptation to a different pace of life, to a certain mindset, when the returnee has picked up so much (even unvoluntarily) of the country they are back from.


Yet, I originally hadn't picked up the book for Adichie's take on race issues. My latest podcast episode was why I read it again


In it, my guest, Marie-Virigile talked about her parents divorce and how unusual it was when it happened, 30 years ago in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). And the most unusual part is that it was her mother who filed for divorce. In a society that just doesn't believe in divorce or where marriage are not always a matter of love.


That conversation reminded me of Obinze talking to his friends about wanting a divorce from his wife Kosi, to be reunited with Ifemelu. I was looking for his friend Okwudiba's answer, which illustrates that mindset perfectly :

"Many of us didn't marry the woman we truly loved. We married the woman that was around when we were ready to marry. So forget this thing. You can keep seeing her, but no need for this white-people behavior. If your wife has a child for somebody else or if you beat her, that is a reason for divorce. But to get up and say you have no problem with your wife but you are leaving her for another woman ? Haba. We don't behave like that, please.

Anyway, I read "Americanah" again and I enjoyed it so much.

I put it down with great nostalgia BUT I was quickly consoled by this little gem on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website, Ifemelu's blog about her life in Nigeria : https://www.chimamanda.com/ifemelus-blog/


How about you ? Did you read and enjoy "Americanah" too ? Tell me all about it in the comments !

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