Full confession: It’s been awhile since I’ve read this book, but I still love it and I’m still going to review it. This novel follows Ifemelu and Obinze, high school sweethearts who end up parting ways due to various political and personal goings on. After high school, Nigeria is under a military dictatorship. Ifemelu leaves Lagos to go to America to study, leaving Obinze behind to hopefully follow. However, when Obinze is denied entrance to America, he begins life as an undocumented immigrant in London. The novel follows their individual stories, as well as the story of their love amidst troubled times.
When I read Americanah, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I’m glad I got what I did. What I got was a story of love, but also a story of global differences, particularly surrounding the construct of race. Ifemelu, as an immigrant to America, is not sued to the concept of race, but it hits her in a very real way when she leaves Nigeria. The thoughtful and insightful meditations on race (especially in America) included in the novel really hit me hard, and made me think. I really appreciate when fiction is well constructed enough to hit social justice issues and show how and why they matter through the lives of the characters. For this reason, I think this novel is extremely important for all to read and think about. The novel was also incredibly moving, and portrays two people who are very human in the mistakes they make. Ifemelu’s inability to adjust in America and the inability for her to communicate were relatable, perhaps less so to me as a white woman born in America, but her fears and anxieties were so well written that I could practically feel them jumping off of the page and I couldn’t help but at least try to empathize with her, as well as feel a desire to make my country a more hospitable place to people of all nationalities and backgrounds.
The importance of the novel is also accompanied by a decent story. I’m a sucker for a good love story, and while I think the one portrayed here is somewhat predictable, it still made me smile and laugh and occasionally cry. The brokenness that both Ifemelu and Obinze show at different points is also contrasted against various ways that they are able to heal as they learn about life and how to deal with it outside of their home country. The story told here is a very human one that can extend beyond countries and nationalities, but is unique to the author’s home country as well. I really cannot say enough about how much I loved this book. I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good love story, looking to read a more diverse range of books, and/or looking to find superb international writing.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Have you read Americanah? What did you think? If not, will you read it? Let me know in the comments below!