Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Americanah, begins in a train station in Princeton, New Jersey, where Ifemelu is on her way to Trenton to get her hair braided. This errand, seemingly simple, could stand as a microcosm for a plot that is all about transitions—epic, life-altering journeys from Nigeria to America and London, the transition from high school to college, the evolution of teenage crushes to true love, right down to the minute, but no less significant, detail of where a black girl can get her hair done.
Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love as teenagers in Lagos. The military dictatorship in Nigeria made it almost impossible for them to complete college, and both hoped to go to the United States. Ifemelu left Africa first, living in Brooklyn with her aunt and cousin Dike, and then on to college in Philadelphia. The plan was for Obinze to join her, but, unable to get a visa after 9/11, he instead went to London and plunged into the dangerous life of an undocumented immigrant. Both young people did whatever they could to survive, and the subsequent feelings of shame and embarrassment changed their relationship.
Fifteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man with a family in newly democratized Nigeria. Ifemelu is at Princeton, the author of a wildly successful blog about race in America with the wonderful tongue-in-cheek title Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (those formerly known as Negros) by a Non-American Black. She has a sexy academic boyfriend and a lively and diverse group of friends. But she is homesick for Nigeria, and realizes that her thoughts of returning are all wrapped up in her unresolved feelings for Obinze.
As she did with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie creates a multigenerational tale, spanning three continents and incorporating the complicated politics of Lagos, the slippery codes of race and class, and the emotional network of family and friends. The novel is stuffed with characters—single mothers, students, hairdressers, cab drivers, academics—each a perfectly realized portrait in a lively tapestry. Adichie’s observations are needle-sharp when it comes to race, but her empathy makes Americanah—a term that is used for Nigerians who go to America and return with an exaggerated sense of superiority—a warm and surprisingly funny read. Americanah is an engaging novel about love, change and identity in today’s globalized world that is not to be missed.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Ifemelu, the Nigerian expat and Princeton lecturer at the heart of this latest novel by Orange Prize winner Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), writes biting, dead-on blog posts taking aim at the cultural schism between non-African blacks, Africans, and everyone else. She also observes her Auntie Uju turning herself inside out to attract a man as Ifemelu's nephew silently accepts his mother's aspirations. Whether Ifemelu is writing a treatise on how to care for black hair or a scathing take on American students earning extra credit for bombast, her opinions bring her money and acknowledgment. But one day, as she is complimented on her nurtured American accent, Ifemelu senses that she has lost her way. A parallel plotline follows Obinze, the man Ifemelu left behind in Lagos, who emigrated to London and longs for a life in America with her. VERDICT 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. Her work should be read by anyone clutching at the belief that we're living in a post-racial United States.--Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Estero, FL[Page 67]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Adichie burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with Half of a Yellow Sun, her searing depiction of the civil war in Nigeria. Her equally 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. An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy. She broadens her canvas to include both America and England, where she illuminates the precarious tightrope existence of culturally and racially displaced immigrants. The friendship of Ifemelu and Obinze begins in secondary school in Lagos and blossoms into love. When Ifemelu earns a scholarship to an American college, Obinze intends to join her after his university graduation, but he's denied a U.S. visa. He manages to get to London where his plight is typical of illegal immigrants there: he uses another man's ID so he can find menial, off-the-grid work, with the attendant loss of dignity and self-respect. The final blow comes when he's arrested and deported home. Ifemelu, meanwhile, faces the same humiliations, indignities, and privations--first in New York, then in Philadelphia. There, attending college, she's unable to find a job and descends to a degrading sexual act in order to pay her rent. Later she becomes a babysitter for a wealthy white family and begins writing a provocative blog on being black in America that bristles with sharp, incisive observations about racism. Ifemelu writes that the painful, expensive process of "relaxing" kinky African hair to conform to cultural expectations brings black women dangerously close to self-hatred. In time the blog earns Ifemelu fame and a fellowship to Princeton, where she has love affairs with a wealthy white man and, later, an African-American Yale professor. Her decision to return home to Nigeria (where she risks being designated as an affected "Americanah") is the turning point of the novel's touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil. Announced first printing of 60,000. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (May 17)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC