This book, a friend referred to the other day in what I thought to be a perfect phrase, is “prose poetry.” What a fitting description for the beauty that is “Americanah,” both in story told and the writing itself.
Dont worry, while there are hints and an idea of the story within the following review, there are not spoilers.
Americanah follows the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young Nigerians falling in love at the tail end of high school. Something poignant and particular, swirling in the midst of their love for one another- and not just because they are “first loves,” which can be a memorable and potent thing purely on the basis of it being a “first.” (Just as easily, some first loves become forgettable within the years following. This first love becoming covered and mostly forgotten, with consequent, more powerful, better fitting loves to come).
As the reader, we do not sense that for Obinze and Ifemelu, their connection is especially memorable or with such staying power simply by means of it being a “first.” There is something more to it. Their relationship and feelings for one another, with a resonating depth and rare sense of understanding.
Yet, as all great love stories do, this one enters a phase of uncertainty and even divergence. On entering college, Ifemelu gains scholarship to go to school in the US. Obinze encourages her, supporting this venture fully. The two agreeing he will join her there shortly following her arrival and settling overseas.
Unsurprisingly, this goes awry. Ifemelu while in the US, alone and struggling, reaching a rock bottom arrival at destitute and desperation, loses her way momentarily and ultimately, pushes away Obinze along with such. As the reader, this is heart wrenching to witness. You ache along with her. Though where Ifemelu is engulfed in shame, the reader is swallowed with a heart aching empathy.
The characters in this book are painted in multi-layered depth and compelling personal detail. As the reader, finding oneself attached to, invested in, and emotionally moved by these people.
Meanwhile, Obinze goes off to London. Living there illegally, equally desperate and disheartened as Ifemelu is experiencing in differing degrees, likely even simultaneously, though neither one knowing this of the other. Their having lost touch by this point.
Without offering spoilers, Ifemelu and Obinze journey down separate paths for years. And then, they both return to Nigeria, though he, married and with a child, while she has experienced a handful of other loves and began a blog which caused a rousing and stirring overseas. Their communications with one another flare up once more when Ifemelu reaches out. And what follows…you’ll have to read and find out.
This story is a richly nuanced and engrossing one. Its ruminations and statements on race in America, necessary and important, as well as eye opening and powerful. Several of which, I had never considered myself and now see anew through more aware and observant, wider eyes.
Adichie is a superb storyteller. A poet and an artist. Insightful, romantic, watchful, and wildly intelligent. This is a phenomenal book. One of the best I have ever read. This story made my heart both race and sing. It moved me to teary eyed. It changed my viewpoint on various things. It gripped and inspired me. I cared about these characters.
A must read, for sure. Run, dont walk, to snag a copy and dive in yourself. You will not regret it. This one is gripping, engaging, thought provoking, and emotionally compelling.