Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is an immigrant story. But it may not be the immigrant story you expect.
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
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.
These observations, scattered throughout the book and often expressed through blog posts Ifemelu publishes, help the book excel.
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.