This was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads ever. When it came out in hardback I had to wait because I wanted to own it and I don’t really buy hardbacks so had to wait for the paperback. Then the paperback came out and I thought its nearly my birthday so I’ll wait for someone to buy it for me, which they did (thanks Chris!). Then I had a pile of book club and NetGalley reads to get through so waited some more. And then I didn’t want to start it because I knew that once I had started it I would read it so quickly it would be over before I knew it!
The plot is, essentially, a love story. Ifemelu and Obinze get together as teenagers and share an incredibly close connection. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to study in the United States with the plan that Obinze would follow one day. On arriving in America Ifemelu finds it very difficult to make ends meet and, after a particularly horrible job, develops depression and shuts Obinze out, cutting off all contact with no explanation. Eventually things look up for Ifemelu, she gets a job babysitting for a wealthy white family, starts a relationship with her boss’ attractive rich brother, and later an African American professor, and becomes a highly successful blogger, writing about race in the States. Meanwhile Obinze goes to Britain where he unsuccessfully attempts to gain British citizenship and is deported back to Nigeria. On returning his luck changes; he gets rich and marries a beautiful woman. But then Ifemelu gets back in touch, she is moving back to Nigeria for good.
That plot summary makes it sound a bit like a mushy romance. And I suppose on one level it is an incredibly romantic story but Americanah works on so many other levels as well. It is a novel about race, the immigrant experience, class, education, identity, gender, the meaning of ‘home’, growing up, mental health, culture, family relationships, religion, language, development, post-colonialism… It makes you think about all these things but is never preachy. The writing is just so effortless, the characters well-drawn with as many faults as redeeming features- and the plot manages to switch between times and places without it ever feeling clunky or disjointed. A wonderful, important book.