The BUZZ: One of The New York Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of the Year.
The GIST: Nigerian student Ifemelu comes to the U.S. to attend college and is confronted with an immigrant’s sense of dislocation and self-consciousness about her race. Far from her homeland and her boyfriend, she makes her way to Princeton for a graduate degree, dates American men, and spends 15 years observing and adopting the cultural norms of this country. She starts a blog about race in America and gains thousands of followers. She becomes what her childhood friends would derisively call an Americanah, someone trying too hard to pass as something else. Finally, tired of never feeling quite like she belongs, she goes home to Nigeria and, ultimately, to herself.
The WRITING: Lilting. I can hear the rhythm and pattern of Adichie’s voice through her writing. I fell into this book from the first page, caught up as I was in this outsider’s view of the U.S. Ifemelu’s perspective is frank and wry. She is mystified at first by America, but she comes to understand it well. Adichie’s addition of Ifemelu’s blog creates a second voice in the novel, one that is not as fluid as her own and yet provides a sharp-edged and fitting contrast. This book feels like a bolt of brightly woven fabric, so rich is the material Adichie has to work with and so seamless is her writing.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. This is a love story and a coming-of-age story about our current time and familiar places. Adichie layers her novel brilliantly; I particularly like that she tells much of Ifemelu’s life story as her main character sits in a salon chair for hours, having her hair braided. The tale is filled with colorful characters and startling conversations, with paragraphs that make you shake your head in disbelief, and others that make you laugh out loud. Occasionally, we are brought back to the present, back to the dingy salon and the tedium of braiding hair. By the time the braids are completed and wrapped in a silk scarf, we, like Ifemelu, are ready to move on and to see what life holds for her back home.
QUOTE: “She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.”
EXTRAS: This TED Talk,“The Danger of a Single Story”, is an excellent introduction to Adichie and her perspective on why stories matter.