Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah” marks the final book in the triumvirate of contemporary classics I planned to read at the start of the year,  alongside Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” (now a trademarked “Favourite Book of All Time”) and Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” (an unforgettable reading experience, perhaps gratuitously long, but somehow never feels overstuffed).

“Americanah” probably ranks third favourite amongst that trio, which isn’t to suggest it’s anything other than a masterpiece, just that comparatively, it feels like it’s trying to do too much, and occasionally gets mired in its exploration of its surplus of themes: race and reinvention, immigration, national identity, culture clash, the disparity of being Black in America compared to Black in Africa, to name just a few, all of which orbit a sweeping decades-long love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, two high school sweethearts, who separate and later reunite back home in Nigeria, as two very different people, having endured very different experiences in the West.

I loved the structure of the novel, its unchronological approach, and Adichie’s impressive prose, which is functionally stylistic rather than grandiosely literary. I’m loathe to use the common reviewer refrain “with better editing…” but I’m adamant that if “Americanah” was tightened ever so slightly, some of its (gorgeously readable) fat sliced away, it would be an all-time favourite, a truly magnificent, peerless novel. It’s not that Adichie’s discourse into race isn’t ever anything less than captivating and compelling (and, frankly, essential reading); just that there’s so much of it that it occasionally distracts from the novel’s heart.  I’m aware this is quite probably my own white privilege shining through.

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