Skip to content

Here’s Why Americanah is the Book We Should All Read

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is an immigrant story. But it may not be the immigrant story you expect. Image of a quote from Americanah reading "In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds—class, ideology, region, and race."

You could say immigrants are having a bit of a moment right now. Seemingly a week cannot pass without the President of the United States saying something about immigrants. And then there’s that whole wall thing.

Of course, Adichie wrote Americanah before the current debate about immigration. The book published in 2013.

And the story is about immigrants from Nigeria, not Mexico or Central America. The story focuses on Ifemelu and Obinze. They began dating in high school. While in college, both try to come to the U.S.

One succeeds, moving to the U.S. This eventually ends Obinze’s and Ifemelu’s relationship. Much of the book is about what did, and what will happen between the two of them.

But as most good books go, there’s more to Americanah than the surface-level story.

The Real Story of Americanah

Americanah is an immigration story. Through Adichie’s sharp, descriptive storytelling we experience what it’s like immigrating to the United States and England.

It’s fascinating, if not infuriating, how citizens of the characters new countries treat the immigrants.

Upon first meeting one of the characters, an American says: “’What a beautiful name…Does it mean anything? I love multicultural names because they have such wonderful meanings, from wonderful rich cultures.'”

You read this and see the rudeness, the ignorance of the American’s words. But then you realize you’ve probably said something similar. Many of us do. We say things like this often out of good intent. We want the recipient of our words to know we’re accepting, open to different cultures.

But when we view our actions from the immigrant’s side, we see how even our best intentions fall short.

Which is why Americanah is a book we all should read. We need to see through an immigrant’s eyes. And not just any immigrant, but an immigrant offering observations on race in America.Image of a quote from Americanah reading "her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out."

These observations, scattered throughout the book and often expressed through blog posts Ifemelu publishes, help the book excel.

Americanah’s Resurgence

Americanah was a recent addition to my books to read in 2017 list. I added it after spending a snowy President’s Day Weekend with a friend who was reading the book every chance she got.

This friend is someone whose book recommendations I trust. We have similar book taste profiles. She reads books that matter, so when she spoke highly of Americanah, I knew I had to read it.

This happened shortly after the book was selected for the One Book, One New York program. Out of five books that were nominated, Americanah was the majority’s choice.

The program makes available a free audiobook of Americanah and numerous events are planned in New York City through May. A culminating, celebratory event will take place June 1. Here’s a list of One Book, One New York events.

It’s clear the book is having a resurgence. And for good reason. We should all read Americanah.

Americanah Book Cover Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
May 14, 2013

One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick. A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. From the Trade Paperback edition.