For our latest book club meeting, we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which is undoubtedly my favorite book we’ve read so far in our short four or five months of meeting. Adichie is a fantastic writer; she makes it easy to picture the characters and readers can get fully invested in their world. (She’s also a brilliant public speaker, as can be seen in her TEDx Talk “We Should All be Feminists.”)
It’s amazing yet disheartening to think that there’s so many Americans (myself included) that don’t actually know much about Africa. For instance, I really had no idea that most Africans—especially educated ones—speak English, and that many prefer to speak it instead of their tribal language. It’s a very clear indication of both westernized influence on their continent and self-obsession with our own affairs, yet I really had no idea the extent of it. In the same vein, another thing we discussed was how people in many other countries know so much about the happenings in America while we don’t know all that much about places outside of our immediate realm. One of our members conveniently went on a trip to South Africa recently and spoke with locals there about Trump and our political process as we gear up for the primaries. I have no idea who rules in Nigeria, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to hold a lengthy, in-depth conversation about their politics. It’s actually rather embarrassing and makes me want to expand my political intake more.
We also talked about the difference between people in Nigeria and in the United States. In the book, Adichie shows people asking their neighbors for money, and they all know and talk about each other’s problems. They’re pretty distant from their corrupt government, but among their peers, they’re open. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, I can’t even tell you what the girl and guy that live upstairs do for a living. There’s more of a feeling of community among people, which is further shown when Ifemelu moves to America and feels isolated from the people around her, especially the ones she knew back in Nigeria. The idea that many foreigners have of America is that it’s a place where dreams can come true and people can get a new start on life, however, Ifemelu’s experience is a more realistic depiction of many immigrant’s lives. She struggles to find work and has to settle for jobs that are below her capabilities, nannying and working as a maid. She eventually adapts to it, but then when she moves to Nigeria again over ten years later, she’s shocked by people’s honesty and openness as well as their enthusiasm to hire her simply because she lived in the U.S. Once she gets used to the new culture, she has to acclimate again to what she grew up with.
Additionally we discussed her white American boyfriend, Curt, who most of felt was dating Ifemelu as a trophy in a way—her being black was something that he was attracted to before he even knew her as a person or figured if he actually liked her. It almost felt like a rich white man’s rebellion against his upbringing. I’ve also known people who say things like, “I only fall for black guys, I don’t know why,” and it has always annoyed me. Saying that you prefer one race over another fetishizes a person’s race and makes the relationship inherently flawed from the start.
The only thing people universally disliked was the ending since it seemed so sudden and rushed. It was almost as if Adichie got tired of writing the story or hit a word limit, and she tried to nicely wrap it up and leave the reader to interpret it as they would. But we didn’t want to do that! We wanted to be told what happens since we were so invested in the story and characters the entire time. I did find this blog that Adichie made in the voice of Ifemelu as if it were the blog that she created once she moved back to Nigeria, so I guess that’s a bit of a continuation and closure. Personally, I didn’t hate the ending entirely. It definitely didn’t detract from my feelings on the novel as a whole, and I’m excited to delve into more of Adichie’s works (possibly Purple Hibiscus next!).