Longlisted – Baileys Women’s Prize 2014
As teenagers, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love in a Nigeria under military dictatorship. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America, where Obinze hopes to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Fifteen years later, after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?
©2013 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (P)2013 W F Howes Ltd
"Andoh's rich voice and distinct characters and rhythm keep the listener engrossed.... Andoh has fun adopting a mocking lilt for Ifemelu's snarky blog entries.... [and] a more serious tone brings authenticity to the heartbreak of Obinze's London experience." (AudioFile)
I have been a member of Audible since 2006 and hence listened to hundreds of books. I must confess however, I am a selfish listener because this is my first written review. I am compelled to write a review on this book for the following reasons ...
The Writing: This book has got to be some of the best writing I have had the privilege of listening to. I am lulled by the wonderful use of the authors beautiful construction of words and how they flow. The Story: I am more than two thirds through this book (regrettably) and I have not been absorbed since the very beginning - I want to drink in this beautiful amazing story which covers culture, life, love and humor. The combination of the wonderful literature and the story itself, sewn together so flawlessly make it the BEST listen EVER. Last but CERTAINLY not least - the Narrator, OMG, the Narrator! she is the master of all masters! Again, I have not heard anybody that comes close! there was not one accent that she did not ace in sound and pronunciation - who exactly is she - if not magnificent!! I have heard GREAT narrators on audible such as Frank Muller and George Guidall - Giants, but this woman, she is in a class all of their own. Thank you Audible for this one - Thank you SO MUCH!!
I found this novel fun and memorable, sharing many of the traits of its principal character Ifemelu. She's an engaging but highly flawed person who seems to pass her days judging the people around her, telling folks she’s only just met about their own experiences, even saying “That’s a lie” to someone she disagrees with. Yet she cannot bear that other people should occasionally judge her. She thinks she sees The World As It Truly Is, while everyone else merely grasps at shadows, bound up in their own biases and limited perspectives. She perceives racism everywhere around her--except in Nigeria where, we learn, there’s no racism, merely “prejudice.” She begrudges other people their privileges while blind to her own.
Ifemelu spends much of her time casting a disapproving eye at others—Malian hair braiders, white American carpet cleaners, Haitian poets, Asian beauty parlor managers, white American girls with cornrows, francophone Africans, crass fellow Nigerians, Black American activists, and anyone more honest than herself. Reading the Ifemelu chapters I began to feel swamped by a gentle but persistent tide of negativity. Where was the beauty in humanity? Where was the love?
But the love was there for Obinze, Ifemelu's romantic foil, who as a character is less contradictory and less fully formed than she. He is primarily a site for desire (namely the desire to emigrate to America), and someone to whom unfortunate things happen. The novel's American characters, irrespective of their race, struck me as entitled, child-like, and conspicuously unaware of themselves, while its protagonists Ifemelu and Obinze seem to have keen senses of who they are and what they want.
As for the audio performance, narrating "Americanah" could only be a huge challenge given its characters' array of accents—Nigerian, British, and American, of course, but also French, Ethiopian, Angolan, Malian, Kenyan, etc. Anglo-Ghanaian actress Adjoah Andoh performs Adichie’s third-person narration in a clipped, upper class British accent such as one hears on the BBC. Her rendering of Nigerian and British characters’ accents sounds, to my American ear, convincing and delightfully varied, but the dialect she uses for the novel’s American characters (male or female, black or white) is monochromatic and nasal, such that most Americans (and even Nigerians who've spent time in America) come off sounding like Fran Drescher. Whether or not this was intentional, it lessened my listening enjoyment. While Ms. Andoh's mispronunciations were occasionally amusing-- someone please teach her how to say “Potomac, Maryland”!--they were also frequently distracting.
Reading and listening to this story had me at turns intrigued, impressed, frustrated and bemused. Yet weeks after finishing it, I find myself often thinking back on these characters and their observations, and sometimes second-guessing my own beliefs and behaviors. I can say that, as a direct result of reading "Americanah," I have sworn off eating ice cream cones in public: Ifemelu wouldn't approve. And, as a direct result of listening to Ms. Andoh's narration, I'm considering pronouncing the "t" in the word "often."
There are two central themes to this book; it is both a love story and an in-depth look at what it is to be black, today, in America and in Nigeria. It also looks at how it is to be young in today’s world – a world of computers and cellphones and blogs and, on a more general level, how people interrelate with each other.
Different readers will be drawn to different aspects of the novel. The love story did not draw me in. It begins with a “coming of age” attraction between two teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. The story goes full circle and ends on the same note, back in Nigeria and back with these two, Obinze and Ifemelu. Will they find each other at the end? And if they do, at what cost to others? That this aspect of the novel did not attract me is not to say that it was poorly written, but only that my interests lay elsewhere, given my particular past experiences and age.
What did interest me is Adichie’s penetration of race, racial bigotry and inequality. Obinze and Ifemelu are separated. Ifemelu goes to the America with her aunt, but after 9/11 Obinze cannot get into America and immigrates to London. Political turmoil in Nigeria and the impossibility of getting a good education at home is what forces both abroad. Both experience how it is to be without family in a foreign country as an immigrant, Obinze an illegal immigrant. Ifemelu learns what it is to be an African Black in North America. Both flounder. The central themes remain love relationships and race.
As with all books it is the reader’s own experiences that influence how one perceives a book’s content. How do I compare my own immigrant experiences with those portrayed in the novel and why are they different? To what extent are blacks discriminated against in the US today in comparison to Europe? I look with admiration at the US and think how wonderful it is that Obama, a black could become president. That does say something, no matter how you twist or turn it. That Adichie isn’t satisfied, that she reveals to me, a non-black, the inequalities that still remain is only admirable. Through her characters you come to understand on a ground level the inequalities that remain. You understand on a personal level. One example: in all the women’s magazines there are article after article about what eye shadow works best for brown our blue or green eyes, but what if you have black eyes? There are full discussions of what to do with straight, wavy or curly hair, but where is there help for kinky hair? Yeah, there STILL isn’t total equality, total acceptance of all our differences. I like that the book made me more aware of what is to be black on a daily basis. There is also the difference of being a Black-American and the difference of being a Non-American Black. Being colored, Hispanic versus African versus Asian, are all different. A Black-American lives with the baggage of historical discrimination in the US.
Narration of the audiobook by Adjoa Andoh is excellent, albeit a bit difficult for those, like me, who are not accustomed to the many different black accents. I had to listen carefully. I am glad I had a chance to do this through this audiobook.
I believe how you will react to this book will be determined by the theme that most draws your attention. You may be enthralled by the love story or like me just interested in current racial and immigrant injustices.
I enjoy mysteries, NOT thrillers, contemporary fiction, especially about diverse cultures, and sometimes history, if it doesn't involve too many dates. I often listen to a book multiple times, discovering unnoticed details in the retelling.
I love the Nigerian dialect and depths of discussion about different social structures.
Believable characters and very believable settings.
The two main characters were my favorites; I can't remember how to spell their names, having listened to the book rather than reading it!
I believe my reaction was a better understanding of Nigerian culture and "Africahn" migration to "white" countries.
The blog post streams were excellent.
English major. Love to read
A particularly telling standard I have for if a book is good is if I listen to it as I am walking the 5 minutes -- not half hour, but 5 minutes -- to my office from where I park which I did throughout my read of this one. It definitely interrupted my life - the two strands of the love story and the commentary on race in America and in Nigeria kept me glued to the book in many unusual situations. I walked more as I read this book and I listened whenever I could and still be responsible. It is beautifully written, the characters are plucky and memorable and the story is very clever. Perhaps most important, it will shake your beliefs around a bit - and when is that not a good thing? The New York Times was right in naming this one of the year's ten best!
brilliant, touching, though-provoking
I really can't think of another book that captures humor and love while addressing important issues of race and immigration.
The reader has so many different voices and accents and she brings the personalities of the characters to life. I've listened to many books on tape and rarely does a reader create such a vivid distinction between characters. I had started reading the story on my own, and the protagonist was harsher in my mind. However, the reader's voice softened her for me and created a new image of her that I enjoyed.
Yes - Obinze's struggle in London was especially touching for me.
This is one of my favorite books that I've ever read or listened to.
Heavily addicted to the world Of books, exploring new styles that bring the author's fertile imagination from thoughts to print.
my most enjoyable experience ? I loved seeing the characters undergo this surgical transformation. Adichie knows what she is doing. Ifemelu and Obinze are two characters undergoing constant transformation. They have no game plan as it were. They just embraced life the way it happened to them. From the UK to the USA we see both Of them bending to forces beyond their control. In addition to being a test to their identity , this author has no regress, and rightfully too, when she describes in graphic details what her characters must do to survive .
i cant forget the moment Obinze realises he is better off than cleaning all sizes Of shit. His dignity at this moment takes a whole new meaning. .i think Adichie uses her two teenage lovers to make it clear that there is no damage from which we cannot recover.
Bold, audacious , witty
Nigerian names are not that easy to pronounce. That she accepts to dare trying merits her the adjectives above.
Ifemelu's meeting with the sports trainer. She had to pay her rents and would hate herself for doing what she did.
I love the blog posts. .this tells me that the epistolary forms and Blogs can conviniently be used to advance plot within the same novel.
I have listened to this book more than once. It embodies beauty and brain fused together. African literature should not be stuck in the past...this is a good piece of progressive experience of African literature. A masterpiece.
the blend of reality into fiction. It makes us of very functional definitions or essential issues like whiteness, racism, being black, Africans. A beauty comparable to the Mona Lisa!
good pronunciation of the names. Good reader.
When she defines whiteness as a norm.
If you are confused about race issues read this book. it makes use of very simple, low to earth example to explain very serious issues.
It was. The writing is great. I didn't love the way the person read it though.
Yes. I have so I already know her writing is strong.
The reader's American accents grated my nerves. No account for region and they all sounded like they were putting question marks at the end of sentences mostly. In this instance, since I didn't love the American characters already (a bit stereotyped and one dimensional - at best two dimensional, it made it worse.
"A brave novel let down by a timid performance"
I would recommend the novel to any African diaspora/returnee. I would however have to warn them that the narrator could not pronounce any of the names and couldn't bail any of the accents. If this is likely to annoy you then buy the text and read it.
I normally like Adichie’s style and stories, but this book felt different. The protagonists' story is engaging at the start, but then the narration turns into a lecture about racism. It felt as if the author wanted to make a point, and then bang it over your head again and again, and then some more. I don’t disagree with the points she’s trying to make, but rather with the delivery- if I’d wanted to be lectured about how white folks don’t realize they’re being racist, I would’ve read an essay. All the secondary characters seem to be exactly the same- arrogant, pretentious and unaware of their racism and ignorance about Africa, whether they are in the London or the US. One would expect more subtlety and skill from an author of this magnitude.
All in all, this novel is not remotely as engaging or insightful as Half of a Yellow Sun or The Purple Ibiscus and the tonal repetitions of similar episodes make the reading quite dull. I wish it had been much shorter or edited better, perhaps then I would’ve enjoyed it more. Still, not an entirely terrible listen, particularly thanks to the ability of the narrator, who displays a vast array of accents.
"A superb achievement"
I loved this book. The story is convincing, I cared about the main characters, I was kept guessing, and I was drawn completely into their world.
Ifemelu's journey – from an outsider to whom everything is new and unexpectedly strange, to confident resident alien in the USA – was one I could relate to from personal experience. Like her, I was eventually pulled back home, never entirely feeling a sense of belonging, yet recognising the positive aspects of American life and values that are often overlooked by the country's critics (many of them from a point of ignorance).
The descriptions of American society and the minefield of cultural groupings and sensitivities that take so long to navigate are right on the mark here. Yet the narrative flows naturally, the characters have depth (even when they're apparently there to represent stereotypes!), and the social observation blends seamlessly with the story itself: Ifemelu's account of how her life unfolds, and to a lesser extent Obinze's story in England, too. Most of all, the love story is powerful and completely credible. It's a masterpiece of storytelling.
The narration is virtually flawless and I enjoyed having this story read to me. I'll probably go back to the beginning and listen to it all again!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a gift for simply painting pictures. I listened to this having read Half of a Yellow Sun and really enjoying it. Her grasp and description of human relationships is amazing.
She hits the nail on the head in so many ways, culturally, emotionally, and observationally. I am a fan.
Adjoa Andoh is also a fantastic narrator, accents nuanced and spot on.
I listened while driving to work and would arrive having been totally sucked in.
"As an American..."
I have only started listening to this and I am already hooked and had to let you know. The reader is excellent.
The story and main character were definitely the most enjoyable aspect.
Honest and enlightening portrayal of the main character's perspective.
Enjoy is perhaps not the right word, but I enjoyed how the author explored both extremes, the difficulties/despair and privileges/happiness that the character experienced.
There were consistently parts that were moving.
"International love story across Nigeria and America"
Liked the discussion of race and culture & the main love story was interesting and compelling
In the end it left me with more questions what are they to makeover their lives. Been Nigerian knowing that consequences could come from this decision live more to worry about for them.
"a must read"
Not only a powerful book but so thought provoking and beautiful. I would recommend this book to anyone.
"Really amazing book. Beautifully read."
Warm, Funny, Thought provoking
The main character
Not yet, but nearly finished Purple Hibiscus
No - its all good
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