I’ve been spending some time thinking about impermanence and destiny. They seem like mutually exclusive characteristics, but if you think about most narratives that include people who are destined to be together, at some point in their lives they are separated. Sometimes we don’t know if they will ever be reunited, but often the reader hopes they will.
Americanah was a novel that helped me to explore that idea. It follows the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are high school sweethearts but are separated when Ifemelu gets the opportunity to go to the USA. Obinze had hoped to join her, but that is simply not the way that life turns out for them for a number of reasons.
And so, having met them as characters so obviously meant to be together, we are taken along with them as they begin to discover what it means for them to be on their own and to have to redefine themselves in the absence of their most favourable mirror. These paths of self-definition, of trying to live authentically are not always smooth, and they are certainly not easy. Even less easy are the times when you feel them succumbing to the pressures of being what others need them to be. When I finished the book I felt bereft for losing the characters, wishing I could start the book all over again.
It is not only their love story that is interesting, but the cities that they live in become characters that force out certain elements of their own characters and serve as platforms to explore other ideas. Their reflections on race and class in both the US and the UK are educational without being didactic – it is clear Adichie wants the reader to think about their own relations to both, and to people who don’t necessarily fit into the same category as them, but it doesn’t feel as though she forces anything. She simply shows you through their eyes what the impact of refusing to acknowledge difference is, and how it so very rarely erases that difference. The technique of using the blog for social commentary is masterful.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer, and this is her fourth novel (Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and That Thing Around Your Neck are the others). I haven’t read them but I’ve ordered them so they will definitely be in my bookshelf soon. She has also recently published an e-book titled ‘We should all be feminist’ which of course endears me to her even more. There is also a TED talk with the same name. Her TED talk on the danger of a single story is one that resonates with me – especially given that I’m doing this project with the purpose of hearing other voices and other stories. She is only 37! (hashtag get a move on Jen!)
I loved this novel. I loved the prose and the characters and the setting. I loved the plot, the saga and epic quality of it. I know I sound like I’m gushing, but I don’t feel ashamed about that. Read this book. Now.