Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recent Read: Americanah

I recently finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is now one of, if not the best books I have ever read. Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu who grows up in Nigeria and later moves to America to work and study. Ifemelu's life is full of ups and downs, loves and losses, and a dawning realization that Nigeria may not be the same country she grew up in.

The book is engaging, one of the few pieces of literary fiction I've read this year that has truly captured my attention and kept me reading. Americanah told a story that was relevant to the world at this very moment. The realities of life were not glossed over or romanticize like in other books. Adichie gave social commentary and made sociological observations without ever being boring. She makes observations about food, wealth, health, race, psychology, and capitalism around the world.

There is a whole world that most people don't know about, cultures and communities that outsiders will never be a part of. It's wonderful if you are lucky enough to visit other countries and experience other cultures but often a person can't know or understand unless they are able to hear from an insider's perspective. Adichie's observations about race gives people like me (those who grow up white, with white parents and mostly white classmates) a different perspective. In some ways, as a woman I can empathize with the frustrations of fighting a social system that doesn't treat you fairly but I will never know (or pretend to know) the struggle of being black in America. The two are incomparable.

In America race really is the defining factor. Reading Adichie compare countries such as the US, Nigeria, and England and their relationships with race was really interesting. When you're white, it's so easy to brush race under the rug or not want to talk about it because we have the privilege of not talking about it. We like to live in a delusional world where racism existed in the past and believe that race no longer matters but it does. Just look at the news today and you won't be able to deny that fact. 

Both Ifemelu and Obinze believe that leaving Nigeria will make their lives better. They grew up thinking that countries like America or England will help them prosper and give them more opportunities, but their lives in those countries don't happen the way they imagined. Ifemelu soon realize that the America Obinze grew up dreaming of is not the America that really exists. Like Ifemelu puts it,"It's wonderful but it's not heaven." I took a class in college that primarily focused on dismantling the American dream and I found it fascinating. Immigrants seek our country to make their lives better or live in a safer environment and yet we often treat them like they are worthless. We act like immigrants are burdens we must support but we rarely allow them to legally support themselves.

Americanah taught me about a different kind of life while still being relatable and fascinating. Adichie was able to make observations and support arguments by allowing the reader to view the world from different perspectives. While the book may be a work of fiction it reads almost like a memoir, something where lines are blurred between a story and real life. Americanah is a must read for anyone trying to understand the world today.


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