Americanah is presented as a love story about two star-crossed lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, who separate after Ifemelu moves to America. It’s also a story about immigration, cultural differences, the difficulty and dangers of assimilating to a new culture, race, prejudice, and a lot more.
It’s a very deceiving book. First of all it’s 477 pages but the font is very small, so it took me a lot longer to read than I initially thought it would, but Adichie kept me engaged, for the most part. I was expecting a romance story but it’s not strictly that. The love affair between Ifemelu and Obinze is in the background for much of the story, and Ifemelu gets most of the pagetime.
Rather than a romance the book is more a vehicle for Adichie to talk about issues that interest her, and it becomes quite clear that Ifemelu is a proxy for her, and the novel is semi-autobiographical. The character is a professional blogger and some of the blog posts are inserted into the story. Along with this, there are many scenes in which Ifemelu is at a dinner party and engages someone in a discourse about a particular issue, so at times it can feel like you’re reading a collection of essays rather than a story.
And that’s where the dividing line is going to be regarding how people are going to feel about this book, I think. The observations that the author makes are interesting and her commentary about how different people are viewed and the class structure in America comes across as informed and passionate. Through Obinze she also comments on England as well, and then both characters explore the way the outlook on race and economics have changed in Nigeria as well. Many of the scenes feel like they have been captured from real-life experience, especially in the way Ifemelu talks about her relationships. But at times it does come across as though Ifemelu is smug and has everything worked out, and that other people just need to hurry up and agree with her, and she does became a thinly-veiled mouthpiece for the author, which is fine I mean, it’s her book she can do whatever she wants, but she becomes lost in her lecturing and loses focus of the actual story. When she does return to it the love between the characters loses its shine, and I went from rooting for the characters to being indifferent. Even in the last ten pages Adichie is introducing new characters and discussing the state of Nigeria when it felt like she should have been wrapping up the climax of the story.
So I think if you’re looking for a romance story about star-crossed lovers then this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you want to read an expansive novel that covers all kinds of important issues then definitely check it out. This review may seem overly critical but I did actually enjoy it a lot, I just feel like it could have done with some editing (the scenes in the salon especially felt repetitive). It’s a book that does require some effort to read, but if you have a little patience and you’re interested in exploring the issues the book presents then it’s a must-read.