If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” —James Baldwin
When I was teen, I read this book called, Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia, and in it, there’s a part that talks about how one member of the main character’s family is entrusted with remembering the ancestral history in it’s entirety. When this person dies, he/she/they must pass on their family’s history to the next generation until it’s time for them to relinquish their role. As I came to the end of The Deep by Rivers Solomon’s book, I was put in mind of this practice of remembering.
As the descendant of American Chattel Slavery, I am many generations removed from my ancestral home. There is no one who can remember who we were or where we came from before my ancestors landed on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina chained up in the hull of a ship. Sadly, there is no one who can really tell us how our forefather and foremothers ended up on those ships to begin with. I am much like the lost mer-people that Solomon’s main character, Yetu, has the task with “reminding” about their history.
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve been struggling to write a review for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah for the past week due to mixed feelings about it. Upon finishing it, I was equal parts content and frustrated with the book. While it met my expectations in a way, I was also let down by certain aspects of the novel. I end up giving this book 4 stars due to a lackluster ending and the general feeling that Adichie only meant her characters to be mouthpieces to voice her feelings on different cultural and political topics.
At its heart, Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a book about various immigrants who are trying to work their way through discovering what it means to be a part of the countries they’ve immigrated to while also holding on to their original cultures. Adichie’s story is told through the perspective of Ifemelu, a Nigerian blogger who has lived in America for thirteen years and Obinze, a wealthy Nigerian business man who still lives in Nigeria. From Ifemelu and Obinze’s perspective, the reader learns about different race issues that go on in America, the way the Nigerian government works, and hears the stories of different people who have settled abroad or come home to live in Nigeria after living abroad.
As the novel begins, Ifemelu is set to return home to Nigeria after her hiatus in America and decides to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. The two previously lost contact once Ifemelu went to America to finish college. By the time that Ifemelu reaches out to him, Obinze has moved on with his life and is married. Adichie makes it very obvious to the reader that the two characters have built separate lives from the ones that they once lived as carefree children who were oblivious to the ups and downs of Nigerian politics.
The pacing of this story was fairly good. The author was able to say a great deal about the Nigerian culture while also providing adequate details about each of the main characters’ lives. There were times in the book where the background history about Nigeria became long winded, but it never got to the point where I felt the need to put the book down. One thing that hindered the overall pacing of the story, though, was Adichie’s habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu’s blog at different intervals in each chapter. While some of the post were interesting and thought provoking, others just seemed awkward in their placing or unnecessary altogether.
In terms of characters, Adichie creates solid ones to tell her story without making them seem overly preachy. Ifemelu’s character is pegged as someone who “tells it like it is” and isn’t afraid to call others out on their BS. Behind this character’s tough exterior, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America and Nigeria and confront different issues that plague African immigrants and African-Americans. This bluntness in the character as she tries to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as “the other” in America can also cause readers to label Ifemelu as a callused individual. Yet, Adichie makes it a point to eventually peel back this character’s layers and expose her reasoning behind each negative assessment of American and Nigerian culture.
On the other hand, Obinze is a character that is a dreamer at heart and is initially hell-bent on making his way to America to live out his fictional dream of “making it.” Mentally, he believes that life can only begin once he makes it to this glorified Mecca. Obinze is an individual who also scrutinizes the immigrant’s life, but unlike Ifemelu, his character makes it a point to do so from the role of an unbiased onlooker opposed to a blunt critic. It would seem that his longing to become a part of the Western world keeps him from being overly harsh in his judgement of “the other’s” role in society in places like England and America.
With the building of Ifemelu and Obinze’s character, Adichie creates a storyline that holds the potential to be electric once it hits its climax, but it ends up falling flat for me due to its lack of originality. To me, this is extremely sad because for a good 3/4 of her book, Adichie makes powerful statements about race relations in America and politics in Nigeria. However, when it comes time to wrap up the loose ends of Ifemelu and Obinze’s love life, she creates a weak generic ending that feels dry and so unlike what her reader’s expect of her characters. In this way, I feel as if Adichie did more telling than actual showing in her book. I was truly interested in the cultural topics she spoke about, but by the end of the book, I got the feeling that she could’ve condensed the actual love story of Ifemelu and Obinze into a mere 150 to 200 pages and written another book about her feelings on race in America/ Immigration laws in America and England/ Nigerian politics.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nigerian culture or who wants to learn what the American or English culture looks like from a non-white immigrant’s perspective. However, if you aren’t interested in hearing a lot of back history to either of these culture’s, I would recommend reading something else.