2013 Chunkster

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Five words from the blurb: America, Nigeria, experiences, race, relationships

I’ve enjoyed all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s previous books and so was keen to try her new one. Americanah is very different in style and feels like a more accomplished piece of writing, but I missed the raw emotion of her earlier books.

Americanah focuses on Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who moves to America. She begins a blog that highlights race issues in the country and when she returns to Nigeria we see how America has influenced her as she struggles to adapt to life back in her native country.

Adichie does a fantastic job of creating characters. I quickly felt as though I knew them personally and I loved the attention to detail. Entire scenes zinged with life and the dialogue felt natural, leading to several amusing passages.

“That not food!” Halima scoffed, looking away from the television.
“She here fifteen years, Halima,” Aisha said, as if the length of the years in America explained Ifemelu’s eating of a granola bar.

I also loved the blog entries. I thought they did a wonderful job of highlighting the differences between the treatment of blacks and whites in America. It was a wonderful device that allowed Adichie to show her skills as an essay writer to the full.

You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible. (The other group just as invisible is Asian men. But at least they get to be super smart).  In movies dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.  They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the white woman finds love.  But they never get to be the hot woman, beautiful and desired and all. So dark black women hope Obama will change that. Oh, and dark black women are also for cleaning up Washington and getting out of Iraq and whatnot.

The main problem with the book was its length. The plot wasn’t complicated enough to justify the 470 pages and I found that I lost interest on several occasions. There were even a few points when I considered abandoning it. If you are happy to be immersed in the life one or two individuals then I’m sure you’ll love this book, but I longed for a more compelling plot.

It also lacked the emotional power of her earlier novels. I’m sure that most people will be glad that this book isn’t dominated by war and tragedy, but I found the scenes of everyday life less interesting. My experience with this book reminds me of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – another case where it is obvious the writer’s skill has improved (since writing Middlesex in this example), but with the increase in polish and literary depth comes less excitement.

I’m probably being overly harsh, because I was expecting so much. The writing in this book is fantastic and there is a lot to love; it just didn’t become a favourite in the way I hoped it might. Recommended to people who enjoy character driven novels.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

one of the best books I’ve read this year. Slightly Bookist

Americanah is about a lot of things, and so it eventually turns out to be about nothing in particular. Amymuses’s blog

Interesting, not compelling Ready When you Are, CB



24 replies on “Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

This is a really comprehensive review, you are very right this book was too long but had some great writing in it. It just needed a good edit.


I love sound of this hear her in a interview describing the writing and how she came up with book ,amazing after all this time race is still such a hot topic in the us ,all the best stu

Stu, I heard her speak at a literary festival a few years ago – she is fascinating! I should try and find a few more of her interviews online 🙂

I absolutely loved this book. I’m not overly familiar with her previous work (maybe that’s part of it.) For me, it hit on a lot of things I’ve seen personally. My family and I travel a lot in the US and have had a lot of interesting experiences based on race there that we just do not have in Canada. I think the outsiders perspective really needed to be touched upon.

Shan, Most of the race issues aren’t around in the UK either (although some certainly are) but none were surprising and that is possibly the problem with this book – it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already.

I just finished this book over the weekend. Like you, I had big expectations as Adichie is one of my favourite authors. I agree that this was an accomplished book, but I didn’t love it quite as much as her earlier novels, it didn’t feel as raw. I still very much enjoyed it though.

I haven’t read anything by Adichie yet, but I’ve been getting the impression that though Americanah is an interesting, worthwhile book, it might not be the right one to start with. Your review is definitely convincing me to start someplace else…

I think you’ve hit the main problem I had with Americanah: it may be better writing, but it’s lost the more raw quality of her earlier work. I fear that, like many people these days, she may have gone from being a writer to being a professor of writing.

cbjames, Exactly! The faultless writing of a professional, but sometimes you need the ups and downs and the power that comes from a story that needs to be told.

I just finished, and love and agree with your review.

I was reading along nicely, and then, it just kept going. I even put it down with ten pages left, and couldn’t feel the build up to any great ending. I think it was so much more character driven instead of plot driven, like Half a Yellow Sun. And then I didn’t like Obinze that much, even though Ifemelu kept describing him in glowing terms. She was the only one who really liked him. There was a good line at the end about how Ifemelu’s friends didn’t see all his wonderful qualities as she did.

I didn’t care if Ifemelu and Obinze got together at the end. I liked the blog entries, and their experiences in US and UK more than the Nigeria part of their life.

raidergirls3, I wasn’t a fan of Obinze either! In fact I wasn’t really charmed by Ifemelu. I agree with you about the ending – I didn’t care what happened and I think that is a bad sign. In fact, the more I think about this book, the less I like it. Might have to lower my rating soon!

Jenny, Yes, Adichie does a fantastic job of talking about race. She is such a good observer of human interactions. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this so much.

I’ve still got about 140 pages to go with this but so far I’d completely agree with your review, Jackie. I’m missing the page-turning emotional drive of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and I’ve found the book drags a bit whenever the focus shifts to Obinze, but her writing is so good it has carried me through. The novel is perhaps a bit too long, but long in Adichie’s case is a relief after the rather so-so short stories in ‘That Thing Around Your Neck’. And I agree that the blog posts are among the highlights of the book – her observations on the Obamas are great.

David, I’ve never been a fan of short stories, but found those in ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ better than most. I’d always argue that short stories are about 200 pages too short!

It is good to know you agree with me on this one. I hope you find the ending satisfying and can then move on to an even better book!

I finally finished ‘Americanah’ yesterday (it took me quite a long while to read) and overall I liked it. Quite a bit. But for me if the book has a weakness it is Obinze. Ifemelu is a much more interesting, more rounded character and her sections -especially when she is away from Obinze in America and when she first returns to Nigeria – are easily the best bits of the novel. But by giving Obinze his own sections and following him to England, Adichie eleveates him to the status of joint-principal character and I don’t think that works. Aside from the fact that just in terms of page count he gets pretty short shrift compared to Ifemelu, he just isn’t as well-realised and always feels like part of Ifemelu’s story, which is perhaps why I found the bits with him in it dragged. I think if he had been more real, not such a one-note character, I would also have been more interested in his and Ifemelu’s romance. As it was (like raidergirl3 above) I didn’t care that much whether they were reunited or not.
But I think everything else about the novel was wonderfully done.

Oh, and (slightly off topic) I suspect your view that short stories are about 200 pages too short is one shared by a lot of people who don’t like the short form, and it’s one I would’ve agreed with until a couple of years ago. But the more short fiction I read, the more I think it is wrong to compare it with the novel as they are two very different beasts and do very different things (which is perhaps why very few authors excel at both). I read somewhere recently that short fiction ought to be considered closer to poetry, and though I’m not a fan of poetry (yet – the time may well come when I am!) I can see how that makes sense. Although some stories do have a plot, often they’re about exploring one idea or evoking a particular feeling or emotion. A novel can do than too of course but not in the same condensed, concentrated way. At the moment for instance I’m reading a collection by Sam Shepard, many of them no more than a page or two in length and none having any real plot as such, but each conjures up a feeling or a sensation in a way that a novel wouldn’t be able to because you’d be connecting that scene or that moment to a wider story or to characters that would affect your reading of it, whereas the short can shed all that and go for something a bit more abstract and lyrical. I love reading both short and long fiction and really enjoy the contrast between the two. But, still, we all have different tastes – I tend not to read much non-fiction as it doesn’t really appeal to me, whereas I know you read quite a bit of it.

David, I agree about Obinze’s section being the weakest and I thought the entire trip to England was unnecessary – or perhaps that was just because his character didn’t quite work. Maybe Adichie just isn’t as strong with male characters?

I’m not a fan of poetry either. I can see why short stories are a step closer to poetry and perhaps one day I’ll be more drawn to them, but for now I’ll stick to the non-fiction!

I love two of her books I read. “The thing around your neck” and Half the Yellow Sun, and I look forward to read this too! I am still so glad you read and like it to a certain extent.

She has talent and most deserved to be read and promoted widely.

Happy Summer Jackie. I am sure the countryside will be sooooooo…. gorgeous! Thanks for visiting my blog.

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