Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
Many will say this is a book about race and identity (and when they say identity they mean very much in realtion to race and where your from). This is no doubt true but to reduce it to these themes is to overlook everything else. Maybe it’s because I live in Ireland where race isn’t such a big issue. This isn’t to say racism doesn’t occur, it does, it’s just race doesn’t come with the same degree of baggage as it does as in the States for example. Race holds a status in the U.S. it holds in few other countries. As Imfelu comments:
I only became black when I came to America
Therefore while I found the discussions about race interesting, it is just not what I took from the book.
For me this is a book about identity, but identity in that sense of figuring out who you are as a person. It is about what happens when your life doesn’t go as you expected, when the plan falls apart. The struggles of emigration. The difficulties in finding a job. In short the struggles we all face when we are young. These were the things I took away from the book because these are the issues I could identify with….that we can all identify with.
I loved all the characters, though I’ll admit at times Obinze annoyed me. However my favourite character was probably Nigeria. Nigeria is as much a character in the story as any of the actual characters. Adichie makes the sounds, smells and general feel of Nigeria jump of the page. In the portrayals of modern Nigeria I recognised Celtic Tiger Ireland. The brashness, the obsession with the new, the returning emigrants (the Americanah) returning home with their Western ideas and accents. Nigeria, like the characters, exists in a limbo space, stuck between its Africian roots indicated by obsessions with superstition and requirements for generators, and the West representing the lifestyle all the characters aspire to. Nigeria is Americanah.