I first read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah as part of my final exam for graduate school. It was being hailed as one of the first attempts at a "Great Global Novel," which means that, in academic terms, it was a Very Important Novel (any lit majors or graduate students will understand how gaga literary scholars get over branding things Very Important Novels). From my experience, however, Very Important Novels are not always Very Enjoyable Novels, and so I didn't have particularly high hopes of it being a fun read.
For the sake of my sanity (and my final grade), thank the book gods that I was wrong.
Americanah manages to not only be a critical darling and a scholar's dream, but is also a novel you want to recommend to your best friend or your book club. The plot revolves around Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who comes to the United States for schooling and eventually writes a popular blog on race in America from the point-of-view of a non-American black person. She eventually decides to return home to Nigeria and must adjust to life back in Africa, surrounded by her old friends and ex-boyfriend, Obinze.
Gorgeously written, funny, and at times heartbreaking, Americanah is a fascinating look at how race operates in America, Britain, and Nigeria. It's also an amazing depiction of a young woman turning her back on convention to follow her heart, regardless of where it takes her.
If you aren't convinced already, I've included some of my favorite quotes of Americanah below. You'll want to pick up a copy to read (or reread) when you're finished:
1. "The more she wrote, the less sure she became. Each post scraped off yet one more scale of self until she felt naked and false."
2. "And she had ignored, too, the cement in her soul. Her blog was doing well, with thousands of unique visitors each month, and she was earning good speaking fees, and she had a fellowship at Princeton and a relationship with Blaine - "You are the absolute love of my life," he'd written in her last birthday card - and yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, a bleakness and borderlessness. It brought with it amorphous longings, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she could be living, that over the months melded into a piercing homesickness."
3. "She thought nothing of slender legs shown off in miniskirts - it was safe and easy, after all, to display legs of which the world approved - but the fat woman's act was about the quiet conviction that one shared only with oneself, a sense of rightness that others failed to see. Her decision to move back was similar; whenever she felt besieged by doubts, she would think of herself as standing valiantly alone, as almost heroic, so as to squash her uncertainty."
4. "She liked that he wore their relationship so boldly, like a brightly colored shirt. Sometimes she worried that she was too happy. She would sink into moodiness, and snap at Obinze, or be distant. And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping its wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away."
5. "He was one of those people who, in his village back home, would be called "lost." He went to America and got lost, his people would say. He went to America and refused to come back."
6. "Ifemelu shook her head and turned to the window. Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness. She was not suffering from depression; she was merely a little tired and a little slow. 'I don't have depression,' she said. Years later, she would blog about this: 'On the Subject of Non-American Blacks Suffering from Illnesses Whose Names They Refuse to Know.' A Congolese woman wrote a long comment in response: She had moved to Virginia from Kinshasa and, months into her first semester of college, begun to feel dizzy in the morning, her heart pounding as though in flight from her, her stomach fraught with nausea, her fingers tingling. She went to see a doctor. And even though she checked 'yes' to all the symptoms on the card the doctor gave her, she refused to accept the diagnosis of panic attacks because panic attacks happened only to Americans. Nobody in Kinshasa had panic attacks. It was not even that it was called by another name, it was simply not called at all. Did things begin to exist only when they were named?"
7. "It was true that race was not embroidered in the fabric of her history; it had not been etched on her soul."
8. "You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible. (The other group just as invisible is Asian men. But at least they get to be super smart.) In movies, dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, somewhat scary sidekick standing by supportively. They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the white woman finds love. But they never get to be the hot woman, beautiful and desired and all. So dark black women hope Obama will change that. Oh, and dark black women are also for cleaning up Washington and getting out of Iraq and whatnot."
9. "Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty."
10. "There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach."