Americanah is eye-opening and goes into depth about problems that we as a society are often afraid to address. It tells the story of a Nigerian woman, named Ifemelu, who travels across the Atlantic in search of the American dream, leaving behind all of her culture and her beloved sweetheart, Obinze. Ifemelu soon discovers that life in the New World is not all the rage. She finds it extremely difficult for a minority to be successful in America although opportunity supposedly lurks around every corner. Ifemelu discovers a barrier she had not seen in her home country: race. Before coming to America, Ifemelu hadn’t really thought much about race or known it to be a factor worth categorizing people by. She claims “I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America” so, naturally, she was shocked when she arrived and everything seemed to revolve around race. Adichie does an excellent job of exploring social structures and deconstructing racism, creating an entertaining story while bringing up some important controversial points along the way.
Race is a huge aspect of the book and the author points out some important struggles that the majority wouldn’t have known existed. For instance, the issue of hair. In the black community, hair is a huge deal and serves as a further descriptor on the list of how we are different. We have always been taught to tame our kinky curls because they are wild and unacceptable, most of us being forced by our mothers at a young age to cake our hair with nasty relaxing chemicals every month as they tried to save us from the looks of disapprovement for continuing to remain natural. I must admit it has gotten better these days, with a natural hair movement gaining momentum but that is still something we struggle with everyday and I found it great that Adichie pointed it out. Ifemelu is constantly changing her hair throughout the book, in search of a style that will deem her as both presentable and acceptable. I really appreciated that Adichie was not afraid to point out the elephant in the room and she continues throughout the book to throw the controversial issues into the reader’s face.
Adichie manages to not only shed light onto the social issues in America but crafts a love story so real that the reader could believe they know the characters personally. Most writers can create characters that are interesting and likeable but Adichie manages to go above and beyond and craft a character that is genuine. This is something that can be hard to accomplish. A lot of stories will involve characters that are enjoyable, but at times they seem too perfect. This can get boring. Ifemelu makes choices that the reader may not necessarily agree with and it makes for an interesting story, always leaving the reader wondering what she will do next. The fact that Ifemelu was not a perfect character is also frustrating as she can get to be a bit annoying and I wish Adichie would not have made it so obvious that Ifemelu’s experiences paralleled some of her own. This is a fictional story but at times it seems Adichie has put so much of herself into the story, that you may feel you have been tricked into reading a non-fictional story instead.
This book certainly was a great read and serves the purpose of educating the public on the hardships faced by minorities in this country everyday. It is an introduction to the racial divide so prevalent in America and Adichie successfully explains that the American dream is not always guaranteed. The incorporation of the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze, one that has the reader always wondering how the relationship will end, softens some of the harsh views and realities that are served up so bluntly.