Finally, I have finished this book and I can share my impressions!
Americanah is a novel revolving around difficult themes as race and racism, cultural criticism and identity. As the characters of the story move from Nigeria to the US, to the UK, and then back to Nigeria, the author analizes and comments on the various issues black people face in these countries.
The story pivots around Ifemelu, who is the main character of the novel, and the love of her life, Obinze. Before coming to America, Ifemelu seemed to have the paradise in her imagination. However, after coming there, she was confused to realize that the life there was not so bright and colorful, it was “disappointingly matt”.
“In America, Ifemelu learns too that depression is real and not just for the ‘white’ or the privileged.”
In the novel, Adichie covers several issues. One of them is, obviously, racism which can be even called non-violent or hidden. It is presented through micro-aggressions expressed by different people. The author often uses the word “hair” as a symbol to speak about race throughout the novel. She explains how, for black women, their natural hair is often regarded as a defect that needs to be fixed in order to fit in.
Here are some quotes from the novel showing instances in which the author uses ‘hair’ as a symbol.
“Later”, she said, “I have to take my braids out for my interviews and relax my hair… If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional… I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”
“Just a little burn,” the hairdresser said. “But look how pretty it is. Wow, girl, you’ve got the white-girl swing!”
Her hair was hanging down rather than standing up, straight and sleek, parted at the side and curving to a slight bob at her chin. The verve was gone. She did not recognize herself. She left the salon almost mournfully; while the hairdresser had flat-ironed the ends, the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died, had made her feel a sense of loss.”
“My full and cool hair would work if I were interviewing to be a backup singer in a jazz band, but I need to look professional for this interview, and professional means straight is best but if it’s going to be curly then it has to be the white kind of curly, loose curls or, at worst, spiral curls but never kinky.”
The character of Ifemelu itself is very outspoken and can express her emotions freely. At a dinner party, for instance, she caught a woman on a lie, because, from her own experience, she could not believe that a black woman had never had issues with her white boyfriend regarding race.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black and fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it…”
In general, I would like to comment that the book left a mixed feeling. Americanah, unfortunately, is about modernity, in which there is still no tolerance and respect for people. It scares me that racism is rampant even in the most developed countries of the world. In particular, I am interested in the idea that Ifemelu eventually returns home anyway, she leaves America. It surprises and makes you think a lot, because millions of people dream of moving there and even set this as the main goal of their life. This is what I have been thinking about the most.
And here are a few new words:
- Proclivity — the fact that someone likes something or likes to do something, especially something considered morally wrong.
- To sully — to spoil something that is pure or someone’s perfect reputation.
- To chafe — to make or become damaged or sore by rubbing.
- Smug — too pleased or satisfied about something you have achieved or something you know.
- Scruffy — untidy and looking a little dirty.