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
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.
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.
this portrayed two different themes - one is the coming of age in to maturation of a 20 year old bright young woman, and the other is the point of view on race of a non american black . Both points of view were interesting, well written, and complimented each other effortlessly.
What a fantastic novel and even more astonishing performance by the narrator!
I adored Ifemelu, so smart and straight-talking and wonderful. I could see why Obinze loved her so, and their relationship was utterly convincing. The insight into race in America is clear-eyed and honest, but it's not a didactic novel by any means. It pulses with warmth and humour. Just glorious.
On the narration: Having seen some of the American reviewers complaining about Adjoa Andoh's American accent... I could just imagine what Ifemelu would say about that! "Oh yes, because Americans are so well known for their skill at rendering the accents of other nationalities!" The American accents are completely fine, and they certainly don't all sound like Fran Drescher! The range of accents Andoh presents is vast and astonishingly good, and her general narration is simply lovely.
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!
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 like to read. i like to listen.
i can definitely understand why this novel has been put on many of the 'best of' lists for this year.
i found it quite amusing and full of witty commentary, observations and opinions about race in America. i neither liked nor disliked either of the main characters...and i didn't really have any deep interest in whether their spanning relationship worked out or if it didn't.
but overall i enjoyed both of their separate life experiences and found the relationships they had with each other and with their friends and family very realistic. both characters made bad decisions...and good decisions...but the way they both displayed and celebrated their race differently living in the modern world in America, Nigeria and England under the racial pretense of this book was very interesting.
it wasn't my personal favorite of 2013, but it's a solid read that i'm not sorry i took on.
the narrator was awesome.
Adjoa Andoh's Nigerian accent (presumably accurate, though how would I know?). I loved hearing the Igbo spoken aloud.
Ifemelu, of course. She is spirited, judgmental, warm, impulsive, and real.
I'd recommend she work on her American accent. We don't all sound like Fran Drescher nursing a head cold. (And "Maryland" is not pronounced "Merry-land.")
Almost. I did have to take a break from the audiobook during long sections of dialogue because of the American accent thing. Luckily I had the paper book on hand, so I could read some of those portions rather than listen to them.
A wonderful book about race, class, Nigeria, America, academia, immigration, and hair.
"Another great story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie"
This book got me hooked. Not immediately, but within maybe 1 hour of listening I couldnt stop and during the weeks I listened to it, I lived for my car journeys and time spent with my earphones in.
Americanah is the story of Ifemelu, a girl who leaves Nigeria for America to study. She isn't hugely academic but follows a fairly academic life course, exploring issues of race from within America from an outsiders perspective. Alongside this, her relationships past and present are explored, up to the point when she returns to Nigeria (an 'Americanah') and confronts her past.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in my opinion one of today's most talented writers. Alongside Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun it is an incredible story which is captivating, wonderfully written, and truly takes the reader (or in my case, Listener) on a journey.
I will probably buy this book in print despite having listened to it as an audiobook first, because I do want to read bits again and have a physical copy - it's that enjoyable.
This was well-near perfect. The narration was fantastic and had me speaking in a Nigerian accent to myself and saying the names to myself because the sounds that made them up were so beautiful. The story was powerful, authentic, moving and challenging. As a white person who grew up in South Africa during apartheid and then moved to England, I felt heartbroken at some of the experiences that are portrayed in this book. The author has written a sensitive, deeply moving story about what it means to be a black person in the modern world. Ifemelu is a wonderful heroine - she has her faults but she grows through the experiences that happen to her and we really come to love her as she comes to love and accept herself. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Half of a yellow sun was fantastic, but Americanah is faultless.
"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.
"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!
"The Best Read Book from Audible"
The reader of this compelling story was better than anyone I have ever heard.
She juggled American, British, Nigerian, Senegalese and other accents so masterfully. I was mesmerised.
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.
"Holding a Mirror to ourselves"
I would recommend this book, because it holds up an a mirror to Britain as a chilly ex-Mother country, To the USA as a land of shiny dreams that fade upon exploration.
Unfortunately its not readily compared with any other in literature. It reminds me of "my beautiful laundrette. How unbearable being an immigrant can be. The uneasy compromises we make if we want to rise in this world.
The sobbing hairdresser, that role was full of sadness. It was almost non verbal.
No, it's something that needs spacing.
The wonderful range of voices and accents she used brought it alive.
As a white British person, interesting to hear experience of a Nigerian in USA & England.
"For those of us in diaspora"
Yes because of the various accents, which brings the story home
Most memorable part was Obinze's plight in London, I can relate to that on so many levels.
Okay but I would recommend getting coaching on pronouncing the Igbo words properly so it doesn't lose it's mean..
Very much so
"Entertaining and poignant"
The narrator was excellent, bringing alive the different cultures and circumstances of the main characters
Efamala, by far the most interesting, her take on cultural differences and norms were so well observed
Probably the hairdressing scene, where she is making a major change because she can as she is successful, whereas the hairdresser is stuck in an underworld with no choices and no hope. Life chances, choice and individual determination are all thrown into the pot in this scene. Very memorable
It made me sad in so many ways. Migrants hardship, very day battles coping with different and alien circumstances, while facing hostility and prejudice are all dealt with, however not really with any sense of being a victim
The real triumph of this book is that the two main characters find success in their homeland, hardship, misery and success overseas brings fresh insights and resolution. It's really well read, I Could actually feel the crowds and the heat of Nigeria as well as picture the warehouse scene in London with clarity.
I would definitely read more from this author
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