Summary and book reviews of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah
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  • Hardcover: May 2013,
    496 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2014,
    608 pages.

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Book Summary

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu - beautiful, self-assured - departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze - the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor - had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion - for their homeland and for each other - they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today's globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history. New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The first part of Ifemelu's story is told in flashback while she is having her hair braided at a salon before she returns to Nigeria. Why might Adichie have chosen this structure for storytelling? What happens when the narrator shifts to Obinze's story? How conscious are you as a reader about the switches in narrative perspective?
  2. The novel opens in the Ivy League enclave of Princeton, New Jersey. Ifemelu likes living there because "she could pretend to be someone else,...someone adorned with certainty". But she has to go to the largely black city of Trenton, nearby, to have her hair braided. Does this movement between cities indicate a similar split within Ifemelu? Why does she decide to return to Nigeria after thirteen years ...
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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2014

Reviews

BookBrowse

Set in America, England, and Nigeria, the novel 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.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (1239 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King
An incredibly readable and rich tapestry of Nigerian and American life, and the ways a handful of vivid characters - so vivid they feel like family - try to live in both worlds simultaneously. As she did so masterfully with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie paints on a grand canvas, boldly and confidently, equally adept at conveying the complicated political backdrop of Lagos as she is in bringing us into the day-to-day lives of her many new Americans - a single mom, a student, a hairdresser. This is a very funny, very warm and moving intergenerational epic that confirms Adichie's virtuosity, boundless empathy and searing social acuity.

Author Blurb Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
Adichie's great gift is that she has always brought us into the territory of the previously unexplored. She writes about that which others have kept silent. Americanah is no exception. This is not just a story that unfolds across three different continents, it is also a keenly observed examination of race, identity and belonging in the global landscapes of Africans and Americans. If Joyce had silence, exile and cunning for his defense, Adichie has flair, loss and longing. And Adichie is brave enough to allow the story to unfold with a distinct straightforward simplicity that never loses its edgy intellect.

Kirkus Reviews

...[T]hink of Adichie's elegantly written, emotionally believable novel as a kind of update of Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale. Soap-operatic in spots, but a fine adult love story with locations both exotic and familiar.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Her compelling and important new novel follows the lives of that country's postwar generation as they suffer endemic corruption and poverty under a military dictatorship.

Booklist

Starred Review. Americanah is a courageous, world-class novel about independence, integrity, community, and love and what it takes to become a "full human being.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Witty, wry, and observant, Adichie is a marvelous storyteller who writes passionately about the difficulty of assimilation and the love that binds a man, a woman, and their homeland.

New York Observer

Adichie’s style of writing is familiar and personal, and her depiction of the African diaspora scathingly casts many of her main characters as a particularly loathsome type of East Coast intellectual. . . . Her success comes at the level of sentences, the way she can bring a character to life on the strength of a few words . . . This book is absolutely essential.

Vogue

Superb . . . Americanah is that rare thing in contemporary literary fiction: a lush, bighearted love story that also happens to be a piercingly funny social critique. . . . Adichie writes with insight. A scene in a braiding salon, which unfolds over the course of the book, has more to say about the politics of self-image than any novel in recent memory . . . A love story for our time.

Elle

Glorious . . . a saga of a young couple’s efforts to escape their troubled homeland and seek their fortune abroad that bears comparison to the classical canon of the social novel. . . . Americanah provides Adichie with a fictional vehicle for pithy, sharply sensible commentary on race and culture—and us with a symphonic, polyphonic, full-immersion opportunity to think outside the American box and commune with the wholly global sensibility of Adichie, an author who truly contains multitudes.

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African American Hair Styles Over the Years

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 ...

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