“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.”
The comment is from a blog post by Ifemulu, the main character in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Ifemulu, a Nigerian, came to the United States to study and ends up staying 13 years. After setbacks and humiliations, she becomes a well-known blogger about “American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” She gives up the blog to act on the urge to return to Nigeria.
Ifemulu’s love, Obinze, was left behind when she went to the States. He also tries out the West — as an illegal immigrant in the UK. He fares miserably and ends up being deported.
Through their experiences and that of Africans they know at home and abroad, Adichie explores myriad facets of race, identity, migration, and displacement. The United States and Britain are tough going for immigrants, but Nigeria isn’t a nirvana for its native people. The military government of Ifemulu’s and Obinze’s childhood was corrupt, the population poor; under the subsequent democracy, cynicism and dishonesty are pervasive as people push to get ahead.
Playing out against the political backdrops are Ifemulu’s and Obinze’s relationships with one another and with others. In the States, Ifemulu cuts off contact with Obinze because she is ashamed about a debasing sexual encounter when she was desperate for money. She has affairs with a wealthy white man and an African American professor. Abandoned by Ifemulu, Obinze marries and fathers a daughter. Love still burns between them when Obinze and Ifemulu reconnect in Nigeria and have to decide whether they can be together.
Adichie, a native Nigerian, won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah.
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