Book Club Reflection: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

15 Feb

This is much delayed, but I’m finally ready to write my Book Club Reflection for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche! I have to apologize for the delay since I did finish the book a few weeks ago. I wanted to delay writing this post until after I got through the end of the book but then I put it off too long after. I’ll be writing soon about my delays in posting so you all can get an update on my life. But for now, let’s dive into this complex book.

Adichie has done a few TED Talks that our organizer is a big fan of. Here are links to two, The danger of a single story and We should all be feminists. I’m still making my way through them but have enjoyed her way of speaking so far. Adiche started school in Nigeria, much like Ifemelu, and transferred to the US, first studying in Philadelphia and then Connecticut. Her tone is very funny and humorous and her perspective on American culture is a source of laughter. She was quoted once saying she was surprised people didn’t find it as funny as she thought it was. One of our readers found the book too long and a bit dry though most loved it, despite the length. We felt the book was about a lot of things. It was clearly about race and racism but it’s also about sex and sexism, the migrant experience, the strength of first love, and returning home. If you’ve read my review, you know that I think there was too much in this book and I think this list of themes highlights that.

The title of the book comes from the nickname Nigerians give to those who have lived in America and return with some Americanized ideas and inclinations. We found it was very interesting that for so much of the book, Ifemelu was sitting at the salon, getting her hair done. Apparently, this was done on purpose, to emphasize the culture surrounding African hair and how much time is put into maintaining a hairstyle. One thing that surprised us in the book was that Adichie comments many times about the quality of Nigerian schools being so much better than American novels. Ifemelu is shocked at Dike’s school experience and how much she feels it is lacking compared to her own grade school. With Adiche’s and Ifemelu’s decisions to come to college in the US, this was a bit inconsistent with some of the other messages in the book. The ending was a bit abrupt, one reader called it a cliffhanger. We all agreed that it was very suspenseful until the end because you were waiting to hear what happened between Obinze and Ifemelu.

There were a few themes that came up often. The blog posts that Ifemelu has in the book were a good way to talk about topics that might have been difficult to address in the novel without that forum. Many of the relationships in the book involved women pursuing men for financial reasons. Auntie Ouju’s first marriage in the US was someone she didn’t love, but she felt she needed to be married. Obinze’s wife clearly wanted to be with him for money as well. It made Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship stick out. As Americans, many of us found it off-putting that weight comes up a lot in descriptions and conversation. Adichie does comment on this, about how weight is a bigger taboo in the US, and Americans are less comfortable talking about weight and pointing out when someone’s weight is higher than what we think it should be.

One of the biggest themes in the book was about being Black and what that means. Ifemelu says a few times that she wasn’t Black in Africa. The Nigerians divided themselves by culture or nation, not by the colors of the skin. She wasn’t Black until she came to the US. Ifemelu decides to label herself as Nigerian, not Black. But she realizes that others were going to decide she was Black without her opinion being considered. America wanted to pigeonhole her and put a label on her even if she didn’t identify with it.

Auntie Ouju and Dike were some of our favorite characters in the book. Auntie Ouju had redemption in her arc. She learned things, regretted them, and made her own way in a world that wasn’t making it easy for her. Dike had a hard time growing up with her, however. While Auntie Ouju is an adult when she’s having the identity crisis that Ifemelu blogs about. Dike is a child when he’s having this crisis and it’s harder for him than his mother seems to realize. Some felt that Dike’s suicide attempt came out of nowhere. Some of us felt that felt like he didn’t have an identity. His peers thought he was an American Black and his mother saw him as African and we felt these identities were hard for him to balance. Many felt that his visit to Nigeria was very healing because it allowed him to feel like he fit in finally and see where his mother came from and helped explained her expectations and behavior. Dike and Ifemelu were very close, more than most cousins, and we were glad they had this good relationship.

Obinze and Ifemelu’s relationship was a very central part of the book. One reader felt it was a very unhealthy relationship. There was a lot of physical and emotional cheating due to trauma that the characters had suffered. Another thought it was admirable. Obinze admired Ifemelu’s because of her intelligence and what she was capable of on her own. After finishing the book, I think I have to agree with the first reader.

I’m glad I was still able to participate in this discussion, even if I didn’t understand it all at the time. It was good to revisit my notes after I’d finished it. Until next time, write on.

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