Sunday, April 16, 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah

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What it is: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2013 novel won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction award, and I can see why. I've seen 'Americanah' a love story, but it's much more than that. The book is an honest, and sometimes scathing, look at race in the white-people friendly format of fiction. I'm not trying to say that Adichie wrote this book for white people, but rather that even those white people who might not read a book that centers discussions of race can read this page-turner, and I'm not sure how anyone could read it and not take home some seriously important insights.

Why you should read it: See above. First of all, it's a wonderful book. I don't read a lot of fiction, and am always pleased when I find a book that I can't put down. 'Americanah' is about Nigeria, Nigerians and their time abroad. The Nigerians experience the US (and Britain) differently than what the protagonist, Ifemelu, calls American Blacks. The protaganist's experience of the global west is colored (!) by race in a way that startles them, and Adichie's book is thus unique: normally we read about race through the American lens- American people of color looking at race issues, or white people realizing that race exists (wow!). This time, we're seeing it through a third party: Ifemelu is lumped by white Americans, and even sometimes, Black Americans, into "Black," but her lived experience is not that that of African Americans. We read her blog- sample title: "Understanding America for the Non-American Black: American Tribalism," hear her discussions with her Nigerian friends, and watch her move through both America and Nigeria (before and after her 15 years in America).

My "aha" moment:  There are some amazing discussions of hair in this book. Obviously, white people talking and thinking (and selling and fetishizing, etc) about black hair is a complex topic. I read 'Americanah' with some relief.  Imefulu writes in her blog (post title: "A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor"), 
So the other day I say to [my friend]- I wonder if Michelle Obama has a weave, her hair looks fuller today, and all that heat every day must damage it. And she says- you mean her hair doesn't grow like that? So is it me or is that the perfect metaphor for race in America right there? Hair.
Here's why I'm relieved by this: the book has no problem pointing out how dense we white people can be, and also treats Imefulu's hair like what it is- a beautiful and important part of her life. It's part of the story. I have a chance to learn from this book, and revel in the beauty and pain of Imefulu's experience of treating and not treating her hair. And this book has been rewarded by the mainstream press, not marginalized for being "too black." 

Rating: If you like fiction, buy it. Support (Non American) Black women authors. If you're fiction skeptical, rejoice because your library probably has a copy and you won't have to wait for a year for a copy (not that that usually happens to me).