“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
The first time I heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was on small pamphlet at my local university bookstore titled : “We should all be feminists”. Immediately afterwards I went online and listened to her give the TedTalk, which, although did not teach me anything I did not already know, brought forth the issues with sexism once more into the open, in quite an accessible way for people who might never have directly experienced it before, since we all indirectly do at some point in our life. This sparked my interest on her works, and all of her books that sounded remotely interesting were added to my TBR list. All of them have been read this year, with this novel being my favourite.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Knopf and Anchor
Ifemelu and Obinze are two teenagers in love. They also happen to be in Nigeria, which is currently under a dictatorship. To make matters worse between them, Ifemelu leaves to study in America. They hope to meet, but Obinze is denied a visa after the September 11 attacks, and Ifemelu experiences what it is like to be black in America; but both suffer much more than those simplified versions. Later, they meet once again, and face more than one decision when it comes to themselves and their country.
I felt a deep connection with these characters, because their emigration was not a refugee crisis situation, but rather one born out of living under a dictatorship that allowed no choices others than the ones offered by the ruling officials. As a Cuban, I can associate with both of these, that hunt for freedom and safety, that is not always granted by risking one’s life on the path to opportunity. In the end, neither of their experiences is like they hoped. Raised under the romanticized notion of a more civil world in the Western hemisphere, their dreams are quickly shattered when they experience the dissociation between the cultures. The learning experience of what it is like to suddenly see that there is a different category for you, in this case being black, but that never existed where you are from, is like a cold bucket on a freezing night.
“In describing black women you admire, always use the word “STRONG” because that is what black women are supposed to be in America. If you are a woman, please do not speak your mind as you are used to doing in your country. Because in America, strong-minded black women are SCARY.”
Alongside their need to escape, the connection of the challenge that returning home brings, is potent. That is the true fear of every individual who has had to flee from their homeland. No matter how much we wish to return, the unexplained paralyzing fear accompanies us everywhere, reminding us of the others we left behind, and the choices we made while we were gone.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”
The novel is magnificent at illustrating how racism “functions” across different countries, in this case, Nigeria, The U.S., and the United Kingdom. It is riddled (as well as mocks) with the influence the “global West” has had on the rest of the world (in this case Nigeria), easily illustrated in a scene about the argument that a Christmas is not a real one unless it snows like it does in the West. It is easily researched, than in some schools in Africa (and many other parts of the world), children are thought the literature written by Europeans or Americans, instead of literature of all different backgrounds. With a world so connected, it seems ridiculous that one ‘canon’ of books is usually the norm all over. It also touches upon some of the more far-right views on immigration and refugees, sometimes from the immigrants themselves, where they are accused of invading the schools. But no one truly understands why they leave, often missing the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, and yes, there is a very strong difference, choice versus necessity.
I could write and write for hours on end about all the implications the novel has. I could write about sex, gender, race, immigration, poverty, the middle-class experience, and much more on this one novel disguised as a romantic story of two lovers unable to be together. It is a magnificent work of art that will remain at the front-run of literature, particularly with the current state of the world. Please, give it a thorough read.