By Tina Lu
A few weeks ago, I was perusing my brother’s bookshelf when I found perhaps the most unique, engaging, and thought-provoking books I have ever read: Americanah. My brother, it turns out, had read Americanah as part of a Duke University summer assignment (he’s a current junior at Duke), and actually got to meet Ms. Adichie (!!!). I’m not that fortunate, but if you ever want to watch a REALLY good TED talk, watch Ms. Adichie’s one on feminism. It’s a bit long, but I swear it’s worth it!
This book really cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs, but I’ll do my best to lay out the basic plot summary.
The story, for the most part, follows the life of Ifemelu, a Nigerian-born blogger who writes about race relations in America from a non-American’s perspective. The book begins with Ifemelu in a hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey, ready to return to Nigeria, and thus reminiscing about her past.
We learn about Ifemelu’s childhood and maturity into adulthood in Nigeria, and most importantly, her young, blooming romance with the swoon-worthy Obinze. Ifemelu and Obinze quickly fall into deep, real love, even deciding to attend university together. But before they’re able to graduate, their university shuts down. Ifemelu decides to go to America to get the education she has always dreamed about, leaving Obinze in Nigeria.
Ifemelu’s emigration to America, though, is extremely rocky. Unable to find a job and desperately needing money, she is forced to help a slimy tennis coach “relax” (sexually) for money. Guilty and depressed, she cuts off all contact with Obinze. Later, she finds her footing while working for a rich white woman, Kimberly, but never re-contacts Obinze.
Meanwhile, Obinze leaves Nigeria to pursue a better life in England. However, after his visa expires, he is quickly deported back to Nigeria, where he finds prosperity selling real-estate (in a perhaps shady business.)
After years of living in America, Ifemelu engages in a serious relationship with two different men—Curt and Blaine. Curt is a rich, attractive white man, who treats Ifemelu like a princess but never really understands her. Blaine, on the other hand, is an American-born black professor at Yale whose liberal ideals are almost conservative in their liberalness. With both men, Ifemelu is happy, but never in the way she was with Obinze.
Fast-forward to the present. Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and finally reaches out to Obinze again. But Obinze (surprise, surprise) is married with a child. Even though he is married to Kosi, a gorgeous, traditional Nigerian, Obinze is still in love with the beautiful, unique, and nonconformist Ifemelu. They once again begin a romantic relationship, but soon break up when Ifemelu becomes unsatisfied with just an affair. The book ends with Obinze leaving his wife for Ifemelu, though he promises to see his child every day.
Again, there is so much that my summary does not cover, such as Ifemelu’s relationship with Aunty Uju and her son, Dike. But this book is not one of those feel-good novels you read for the plot. I find the true value in Ms. Adichie’s sharp, insightful comments on corruption, identity, morality, race, and love, in her distinction between American-African and African-American, and in her emphatic exhortation to stay true to who you are even when everybody else is conforming to society.
I think I just found my role model in life: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.