I was given Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a birthday present in July by my friend Polly and as soon as I started reading it, on a long train journey back from Cornwall with her in August, I knew it had been a very long time since I had read such a good book.
It’s about a young couple in love and growing up in Lagos in Nigeria and I realised that, with the exception of the fantastic novels about Egypt by Ahdaf Soueif, I’ve never read a novel before about contemporary Africa by an African writer. I therefore had no preconceived ideas about what life would be like growing up in one of Africa’s largest cities and was delighted to be immediately immersed into that world. It was a completely fascinating read from start to finish.
It tells the story of Ifemelu and her family, including an auntie who is the mistress of a military general and whose fortunes rise and fall with him, and Ifemelu’s boyfriend Obinze. As they negotiate their futures they realise that endless strikes at Nigeria universities mean that if they are to finish their education they will only do so by leaving Nigeria. This leads to Ifemelu going to America whilst Obinze leaves for the UK.
Their fortunes as outsiders trying to settle into American and British society respectively are brilliantly told. Ifemelu has a very tough beginning before falling on her feet and eventually becoming a prominent race blogger. The main part of the book follows her life, her struggles to make ends meet, her moves from big cities to small-town America, her successful career and the relationships that she has along the way. Meanwhile Obinze struggles in England without the right to work, existing in a succession of poorly paid and unstable jobs, and eventually finds himself back in Nigeria where he soon becomes a wealthy, successful and respected local businessman.
It is a fascinating, beautifully written book that had me hooked from the first page to the last – not bad given it’s 400 pages long. I can’t recommend it enough. As a reader you are almost holding your breath in the build up to Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s worlds colliding again and it is well worth the wait.
I am so glad that I now know a very little bit about life in modern Nigeria and I now want to know more – I’m already looking forward to reading the other novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.