When Ifemelu, a main character in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah
, suggests that novels can be about "more than one thing," she could easily be describing the story in which she plays a primary part. Americanah
is at once a romance, a coming-of-age journey, an immigrant's tale, and a searing social commentary. It is rich with life and abundant in precise detail about the human experience. Adiche's first two novels unfold in Nigeria (the second novel Half of a Yellow Sun
won the Orange Prize in 2007) but Americanah
cuts new ground. Set in America, England, and Nigeria, it is broad in scope and analysis. Adichie's power of descriptive detail and character development are on full display. Though the novel occasionally unfurls into raw social commentary, the primary story of Ifemelu's quest for self is beautiful and captivating.
The story opens...
Beyond the Book
Ifemelu remarks that there is no better metaphor for race in America than black women's hairstyles, and the history of Afro-textured hair would seem to support her observation. In Africa, especially prior to the slave trade, hairstyles were used to communicate a variety of messages from status to identity to fertility. Dense, thick, clean and neatly groomed hair was highly prized. Hair stylists were well-versed in a variety of hair designs that helped them to create styles that would conform to the local standards of their villages or tribes. Braiding, which is a multi-million dollar industry in America and Europe today, was, during this time, a free and communal affair, an opportunity for female bonding. Braiding sessions included shampooing, oiling, combing, braiding, and...