Stories that inspire

Book Review: AMERICANAH  

I finished reading the last hundred pages of the book in two hours. It gave me a slight headache, but I did not mind it. 

Is the book a page-turner or a fast-paced thriller?  

No. I quit reading the book twice before completing it. It is a kind of book that grows on you. It is about a Nigerian girl Ifemelu, who travels to the US for higher studies and better prospects. About her journey from a poor student in America with no work permit, to a successful blogger. The story parallelly narrates Ifemelu’s first love Obinze’s story in the UK, where he goes to build a future. And concludes with how their lives had changed when they eventually returned to their homeland Nigeria. I am not revealing too much of the story here because, the 477-page novel written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not just about the story, but about various experiences. The experiences of ambitious students from developing third world countries. About their dreams of going to the US or Europe for better opportunities.   

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Did I like it?  

Not at first. Usually, I read fiction with a strong story. One with a good opening, a racy plot, and a logical conclusion. I would like to relate to the protagonist at some level. I needed some nail-biting moments, some interesting twists and turns. Initially, I was disappointed. However, after an eye-opening conversation with my eleven-year-old son, I decided to keep reading. He said, “Amma, not all stories need to be racy. You have to appreciate stories like Americanah for their honesty. You cannot always relate to the Protagonist because everyone is different. You can learn about different people, their culture, and mannerisms through such books.” His perspective startled me (wonder what book taught him that). Now the flawed protagonist Ifemelu made more sense to me. Adichie’s writing began to show me the world from the point of view of the flawed, judgemental, but intelligent Ifemelu. I began to like the novel.   I even started taking notes. I started re-thinking the dialogues and perspectives in the chapters. Americanah wanted me to observe more.

I had grown up reading Jeffery Archer and Sidney Sheldon novels. The stark difference in Adichie’s storytelling, which did not have a handsome and intelligent protagonist who always won was refreshing to read. The way she mellowed down glossy America for the readers was clever.  

Some quotes from the book that made me ponder  

“Hollywood movies are average movies with better lighting.”  

When I got married, my husband and his friends spoke about Hollywood movies that I had not seen. I felt embarrassed and started watching them just to chime in during their conversations. Later I realized that it was not worth it. Good movies come in all countries.  

“We are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the west their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of the past.”   

This was on page 436, and all this while I had been thinking that the story is not relatable. After reading this, I realized Indians are no different from Nigerians in ‘forward-looking’.  

“People really do become eccentric when they become rich. Or maybe we all have eccentricity in us, we just don’t have the money to show it.”  

This one was a bit too honest.   

“The thing about cross-cultural relationships is that you spend so much time explaining. My ex-boyfriends and I spent a lot of time explaining. I sometimes wondered whether we would even have anything at all to say to each other if we were from the same place.”  

Adichie was being so practical here and I agree with her. Maintaining a successful relationship takes a lifetime, and being from the same culture plays a major role. There are so many instances in the book to ponder about.  Once Ifemelu was made to attend a party hosted by her employer, whose kids she was babysitting in the US. She was tormented by how the rich Americans spoke about the charity work they did in Africa.

“Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy. She went out to the deck in search of fresh air.”

Such deep words… This novel is not for casual readers, but for the ones who are looking for a challenging and thought-provoking read. I am happy that I did not give up on the book too soon. 

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