Americanah

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Americanah
Americanah book cover.jpg
AuthorChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
CountryNigeria
LanguageEnglish
SeriesAla Notable Books for Adults
GenreFiction novel
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
May 2013
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Pages496 pp.
ISBN978-0-307-96212-6

Americanah is a 2013 novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for which Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award. Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university. The novel traces Ifemelu's life in both countries, threaded by her love story with high school classmate Obinze. It was Adichie's third novel, published on May 14, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf. A television miniseries, starring and produced by Lupita Nyong'o, is currently in development.

Summary[edit]

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Nigeria at the time is under military dictatorship, and people are seeking to leave the country. Ifemelu departs for the United States to study. Through her experiences in relationships and studies, she struggles with the experience of racism in American culture, and the many varieties of racial distinctions. Upon coming to America, Ifemelu discovered for the first time what it means to be a "Black Person".[1] Obinze, son of a professor, had hoped to join her in the US but he is denied a visa after 9/11. He goes to London, eventually becoming an undocumented immigrant after his visa expires.[2][3]

Years later, Obinze returns to Nigeria and becomes a wealthy man as a property developer in the newly democratic country. Ifemelu gains success in the United States, where she becomes known for her blog about race in America, entitled "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black".[3] When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, the two consider the viability of reviving a relationship in light of their diverging experiences during their many years apart.

Characters[edit]

  • Ifemelu - the protagonist of Americanah. She is born in Lagos, Nigeria. In her early years, Ifemelu observes her mother join an fanatical evangelical church and begin an unhealthy habit of fasting, while her father abruptly loses his job and struggles to support his family financially. Ifemelu excels in school, where she meets Obinze. Ifemelu commits to Obinze as a young woman, but after she emigrates to America finds herself unprepared for a long distance relationship. Upon arriving in America she falls into a deep depression, but eventually she begins to acclimatise. In America she is forced to identify as a non-American black and to contend with everyday racism. While in college, Ifemelu works as a nanny, and meets Curt. Though wary of his wealth and connections, she allows him to set up a job interview for her at a public relations firm in Baltimore. They move in together but eventually separate. Ifemelu begins a relationship with Blaine, an African American professor, but grows dissatisfied with their relationship, and returns to Nigeria, where she reconnects with Obinze.
  • Obinze – Raised in Nsukka, Nigeria. His mother, a professor, taught him how to cook and fostered his love of books. His upbringing opens many doors for him, and his refined beliefs and mannerisms attract Ifemelu to him. He is unable to obtain a visa for America and goes instead to Great Britain, where he lives as an illegal immigrant. Eventually Obinze is detained by the UK Government and deported. This experience shames him, but he is able to build a successful business in Lagos and marries.
  • Obinze's Mother- Obinze's mother is a professor at Nsukka University and a widow. She struggles with outdated Nigerian attitudes towards women.
  • Ifemelu's Mother and Father- Ifemelu's mother is a devout evangelical Christian who fasts dangerously in order to drive the Devil out of her family's life. Ifemelu's father is powerless to stop her. He unexpectedly loses his job at a federal agency and is unable to support his family.
  • Aunty Uju - Ifemelu's cousin who acts as Ifemelu's older sister. She starts a relationship with the General, which leads to the birth of Dike. After the General passes, Uju moves to America, where she struggles to continues the medical training she began in Nigeria. After passing her exams, she moves to Massachusetts and marries an accountant from Nigeria. Unhappy with her life, she leaves the accountant, and moves to a different neighbor, continuing to raise Dike by herself.
  • Dike - Dike is Aunty Uju and the General's son. After the General passes, he moves with his mother to the United States. He lives first in New York, then Massachusetts. His suicide attempt devastates his family and underlines the difficulty immigrant families face when trying to integrate into American society.
  • The General- The General is Aunty Uju's lover and Dike's father.
  • Curt - Ifemelu's first American boyfriend. Curt is extremely wealthy and uses his family's business connections to secure Ifemelu a job interview in an effort to impress her, and to persuade her to move to Baltimore so he can see her more often. Curt is kind and supportive but ultimately unfulfilling for Ifemelu.
  • Blaine - Ifemelu's second American boyfriend, an assistant professor at Yale who writes a blog about race and popular culture. Ifemelu moves to New Haven to live with him. His rigidness creates problems in his relationship with Ifemelu.
  • Shan- Blaine's sister. She is a writer who is often critical of others.
  • Kosi - Obinze's wife and the mother of his child.
  • Buchi- Obinze and Kosi's daughter.

Themes[edit]

Americanization[edit]

Americanization is one of the biggest themes in Americanah. In the context of the novel, America itself is a symbol of hope, wealth, social and economic mobility, and, ultimately, disappointment, as Ifemelu learns that the American Dream is a lie and that the advantages she enjoys there often come at a great price. Her Americanization is slow but distinct, and she gradually picks up the slang, adapts to her surroundings (for better or worse), and adopts American politics. Her views on gender and race change because of this, and her blog is devoted to exploring the issue of race as a non-American black in America. She's called Americanah when she returns to Nigeria, having picked up a blunt, American way of speaking and of addressing problems. She resists this label, but it's obvious to the reader that Ifemelu's years in America have changed her.

According to Idowu Faith, “no valid statement can be made on Americanah without deconstructing the term “Americanah” which, more or less, reveals the thesis of the narrative as well as the preoccupation of Adichie in the text.” In Nigerian parlance, the term “Americanah” is an identity term that is premised on a person’s previous experience of living in America. In an interview, Adichie defines Americanah as a Nigerian word that can describe any of those who have been to the US and return American affectations; pretend not to understand their mother tongues any longer; refuse to eat Nigerian food or make constant reference to their life in America.

From this understanding, it is clear that Ifemelu’s decision to return home without worrying about being identified as an “Americanah”, establishes the fact that Adichie is proposing and charting a path for a new kind of migration story whose quintessence is return migration.

Gender[edit]

Adichie's explorations of sexual education and the perception of sex among youngsters in Nigeria plays a fundamental role in the bildungsroman journey of Ifemelu exploring her sexuality as an adolescent in a puritan post-colonial society.

Migration[edit]

While many of the migratory experiences in the novel work within migration theory, Adichie simultaneously transcends the borders of international migration theories by introducing a new factor that both influences migration and projects a new perspective on return migration. According to Dustmann and Weiss (2007:237), lack of economic opportunity and escape from natural disaster/persecution are two main reasons individuals migrate throughout history. While identifying the need to flee “choicelessness” as the main reason for much of the migration in the twenty-first century Nigerian setting of the novel, Adichie uses literary dimensions to shake up the foundations of theory. Consequently, the direction of this type of migration, how it affects the bonds of love, how it changes personalities and cultural views, and how it reinterprets identity become the novelist’s major theoretical engagements. In addition, Adichie is concerned with how migration debases and elevates, how it barters and fulfills and, most significantly, how it reinvents.

Reception[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Critics praised the novel, especially noting its range across different societies and reflection of global tensions. Writing for The New York Times, Mike Peed said, "'Americanah' examines blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain, but it's also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience—a platitude made fresh by the accuracy of Adichie's observations."[3] Peed concluded, "'Americanah' is witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic, both worldly and geographically precise, a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us. It never feels false."[3] Reviewing the novel for The Washington Post, Emily Raboteau called Adichie "a hawkeyed observer of manners and distinctions in class," and said Adichie brings a "ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides of both" the United States and Nigeria.[4] In the Chicago Tribune, Laura Pearson wrote, "Sprawling, ambitious and gorgeously written, 'Americanah' covers race, identity, relationships, community, politics, privilege, language, hair, ethnocentrism, migration, intimacy, estrangement, blogging, books and Barack Obama. It covers three continents, spans decades, leaps gracefully, from chapter to chapter, to different cities and other lives...[Adichie] weaves them assuredly into a thoughtfully structured epic. The result is a timeless love story steeped in our times."[5]

Awards[edit]

The book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review.[6] It won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction),[7] and was shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction[8] of the United Kingdom. The Chicago Tribune awarded Adichie its 2013 Heartland Award for Fiction, "recogniz[ing Americanah as] a novel that engages with important ideas about race, and does so with style, wit and insight."[9]

In March 2017, Americanah was picked as the winner for the "One Book, One New York" program,[10][11] part of a community reading initiative encouraging all city residents to read the same book.[12]

Sales[edit]

Americanah spent 78 weeks on NPR's Paperback Best-Seller list.[13] Days after The New York Times named Americanah to its best books of 2013 list, Beyoncé also signaled her admiration of Adichie, sampling Adichie's TED Talk "We should all be feminists" on the song "***Flawless"; sales of Americanah soared and as of December 23, 2013, the book climbed to the number 179 spot on Amazon.com's list of its 10,000 best-selling books.[14]

Adaptations[edit]

In 2014, it was announced that David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o would star in a film adaptation of the novel,[15] to be produced by Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B.[16] In 2018, Nyong'o told The Hollywood Reporter that she was developing a television miniseries based on the book, which she would produce and star in.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stefanie Anna Reuter: "Becoming a Subject: Developing a Critical Consciousness and Coming to Voice in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah", in: Anja Oed (Hg.): Reviewing the Past, Negotiating the Future: The African Bildungsroman (forthcoming).
  2. ^ Navaratnam, Subashini (9 August 2013). "Race-in-America Is a Central Character in 'Americanah'". PopMatters.
  3. ^ a b c d Peed, Mike (June 7, 2013). "Realities of Race 'Americanah,' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Raboteau, Emily (10 June 2013). "Book review: 'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  5. ^ Pearson, Laura (June 28, 2013). "Review: 'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  6. ^ New York Times (December 4, 2013). "The 10 Best Books of 2013". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 6, 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
  7. ^ "National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners for Publishing Year 2013". National Book Critics Circle. March 13, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  8. ^ Mark Brown (7 April 2014). "Donna Tartt heads Baileys women's prize for fiction 2014 shortlist". The Guardian. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  9. ^ Taylor, Elizabeth (November 3, 2013). "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah' awarded fiction Heartland Prize". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  10. ^ Chris Weller, "New Yorkers just selected a book for the entire city to read in America's biggest book club", Business Insider, 16 March 2017.
  11. ^ "One Book, One New York | And the winner is...", NYC.
  12. ^ John Williams, "One Book for Five Boroughs", The New York Times, 31 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Americanah". NPR. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  14. ^ Meyer, Robinson (December 23, 2016). "When Beyoncé Samples Your TED Talk, This Is What Happens to Your Book". The Atlantic. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  15. ^ Mandell, Andrea (January 4, 2015). "You're really going to want to see Lupita's next movie". USAToday. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  16. ^ Kroll, Justin (15 December 2014). "David Oyelowo to Star With Lupita Nyong'o in 'Americanah' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  17. ^ Galloway, Stephen (January 25, 2018). "Lupita Nyong'o: From Political Exile to Oscar to Marvel's 'Black Panther'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 16, 2018.

External links[edit]