By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Knopf, $26.95, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in southeastern Nigeria, where her father was a professor of statistics at the University of Nigeria and her mother was the university registrar. Now 35, she is considered one of the best young writers of our day. At 19, she left Nigeria for further study in the United States, first attending Drexel University in Philadelphia and then transferring to Eastern Connecticut State University to live closer to her sister, who had a medical practice in Coventry. After earning her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in 2001 from ECSU, she went on to earn a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts in African studies from Yale University. She is a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship.

Her novels are “Purple Hibiscus,” which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and “Half of a Yellow Sun,” named for the flag of the doomed African nation of Biafra and set before and during the vicious warfare there.  It won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year. Adichie also is the author of a story collection, “The Thing Around Your Neck.”  Now married, she lives in the U.S. and Nigeria.

What is this book about?

“Americanah” follows the loves and lives of two young Nigerian emigres, who pursue new lives in the United States and England, facing all kinds of difficulties and culture shock. Once classmates in love at a school in Lagos, Nigeria, they part ways when beautiful and brilliant Ifemelu leaves to study in America, where she struggles to understand the American preoccupation with race and the effects of racism. Her boyfriend, the quieter and shyer Obinze, is denied entrance to the U.S. following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and winds up dodging the authorities and desperately seeking work as an undocumented immigrant in London. Eventually, she, having found success as a writer and blogger and he, having found work and amassed wealth, return to Nigeria and rekindle their relationship, leading to more upheaval and the need for difficult decisions.

Why you’ll like it:

Adichie has a gorgeous writing voice and a perceptive appreciation of contemporary racial issues and how they permeate our culture. She uses her writing skill and political savvy here to underpin a fascinating love story. In a time when the issue of immigration is a hot and touchy topic in the United States, this book illuminates many facets of what immigrants face when trying to become part of a different nation.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Adichie burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with “Half of a Yellow Sun,” her searing depiction of the civil war in Nigeria. Her equally compelling and important new novel follows the lives of that country’s postwar generation as they suffer endemic corruption and poverty under a military dictatorship. An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy. She broadens her canvas to include both America and England, where she illuminates the precarious tightrope existence of culturally and racially displaced immigrants.  The friendship of Ifemelu and Obinze begins in secondary school in Lagos and blossoms into love. When Ifemelu earns a scholarship to an American college, Obinze intends to join her after his university graduation, but he’s denied a U.S. visa. He manages to get to London where his plight is typical of illegal immigrants there: he uses another man’s ID so he can find menial, off-the-grid work, with the attendant loss of dignity and self-respect. The final blow comes when he’s arrested and deported home. Ifemelu, meanwhile, faces the same humiliations, indignities, and privations—first in New York, then in Philadelphia….. Later she becomes a babysitter for a wealthy white family and begins writing a provocative blog on being black in America that bristles with sharp, incisive observations about racism. …Her decision to return home to Nigeria (where she risks being designated as an affected “Americanah”) is the turning point of the novel’s touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil.”

“Scintillating, funny, and heartfelt. Ifemelu, a Nigerian transplant whose 13-year tenure as a resident of the United States has come to an end, is a complex and unforgettable character. . . . A portion of the narrative is told from the perspective of Ifemelu’s first love, Obinze. The journeys of these characters, their brush-ups with race, class, politics, literature, family on three continents result in an utterly transfixing epic. . . . Among its many strengths, Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home. . . . Affecting,”   says Eugenia Williamson in The Boston Globe.


“…In a book … where both wealth and poverty leave characters shackled to lives they don’t want, and the path to adulthood is fraught with betrayal, disillusionment and loss of identity—one of the great joys is the charm of Ifemelu’s romance with Obinze. . . . With great technical dexterity, Adichie weaves the love story in and out of the other stories the characters make of their lives…. These separate pieces feel both self-contained and in conversation with one another, most notably Ifemelu’s blog posts, [which] are by turns knowing and witty and filled with outrage, and add a surprising layer of depth by contextualizing Ifemelu’s experiences within a larger framework of the immigrant and minority experience. …It is a brilliant treatise on race, class and globalization, and also a deep, clear-eyed story about love —and how it can both demand and make possible the struggle to become our most authentic selves,”  says Catherine Chung in the San Francisco Chronicle.

 “[The] fleeting, often romantic notion of ‘home’ is just one of many themes in Adichie’s brilliant new novel . . . While Adichie provides an exciting and emotional plot, she also holds nothing back regarding the personal struggles, questions and failings of her characters, making for an emotionally-engaging and intellectually-stimulating read. . . . Feelings of uncertainty are common for Adichie’s characters, providing great moments of reflection about race, economics, love and aging. In this way Adichie shows that the road home is never easy, and what changes most along the journey—for better or for worse—is us,” says Laura Farmer in The Gazette.

“Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . “Americanah” is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . “Americanah” works in so many different genres—coming-of-age novel, romance, comic novel of social manners, up-to-the-minute meditation on race, as well as the aforementioned immigrant saga—that I’m shortchanging its bounty by only mentioning some of the main characters’ adventures here. Like Ifemelu’s hairdo, Adichie’s novel tightly braids together multiple ideas and storylines. It’s a marvel of skilled construction and imagination,” says Maureen Corrigan for NPR.

When is it available?

You can find “Americanah” on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.