sometimes witty book reviews
Book clubs are wondrous things. A well run club with dedicated readers, expert listeners and considerate talkers (not to mention excellent nibbles) can make the reading and sharing of texts a vibrant and dynamic experience. My friend Amy runs a killer book club. But of course to inspire a passionate book-clubbing experience the chosen text must be worthy of scrutiny. The pick for the book-club’s very first meeting set the standard very, very high: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.
In fact, if it weren’t for book club and the fame of We Should All Be Feminists, I probably wouldn’t have read this book, and that’s a crying shame. The blurb on most editions reads something as follows:
This is the story of Ifemelu, a girl from Nigeria who immigrates to the US to study. Her country of birth is under military dictatorship and anyone who can is getting out now. Her highschool sweetheart, Obinze, is unable to follow her to the US and struggles when he family makes it to London. Years later, Obinze is back in Nigeria and is a wealthy man. Ifemelu meanwhile has become a successful blogger in the US and returns home. Will their love revive?
What a misleading publishing decision. From the very first chapter Adichie is not writing a love story but rather an eloquent narrative-guided essay on race. Ifemelu is black, but in Nigeria so is everybody else. Being black is not a disadvantage in her country, it’s a fact. Upon moving to America she is confronted not only by the attitude of the general population towards people of colour, but also prejudice within the black community. Yes the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze is complicated and sort of compelling, but this love story is really not the crux of the novel. As a white woman living in a still predominantly white country, I am hesitant to discuss the intricacies of the race issues which Adichie explores. What I can say with confidence is that Americanah taught me lessons you just won’t learn if you’re born white and bred in a white-washed country
Reading suggestion: If you live in a Western, white bubble prepare to be yanked out of it. Also read Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists (2014).