R29 Book Club: Americanah — The End Of An Era

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Welcome to the third installment discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Americanah. In this case, the saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” couldn’t be more true. Three chapters before Americanah ended I already began to feel a sort of remorseful pride for speeding through it. It may sound trite to call it a classic so soon, but trust me, if you’ve read it, you’ll agree. (Thank goodness the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun is coming out in July.)

Last week, we left off right before Part 3 began and Ifemelu had just run into Kayode, her and Obinze’s old friend from Nigeria. After she dismisses Kayode completely when Curt pulls up in his car, she writes Obinze an email out of guilt. It’s about time she misses him.

Seeing Obinze broken and alone in London, in search of a National Insurance card, a sham marriage or some way of validating his foreign existence, reminded me of Ifemelu’s ingenue when she arrived in America. She asked so many questions, needed so much help, but in the end, the self-awareness of being foreign ruined both their egos. However, I found interesting that many paradoxical parallels shaped their love story; while Ifemelu lives the life of the wealthy American with Curt, Obinze struggles with the idea of being "leveled" in London. Similarly, while Obinze flourishes in his real estate fortune in Nigeria, Ifemelu struggles to adapt and reacquaint herself with her distant home.

I’ll be honest here: I didn’t really follow the chronology of this story whatsoever while reading. I’m in awe of Adichie’s storytelling mastery — the elaborate weaving of vignettes within the larger tale of Obinze and Ifemelu’s boundless love — but it has been rather exhausting to process it so quickly. As I’ve written before, I feel eternally changed and educated by the cultural commentary and comparisons Adichie makes about Africa, America, England and everywhere in between, but all the other storylines seemed to be both necessary and decorative.

After Ifemelu breaks up with Curt when she cheats on him, her parents visit, and watching her judge them was painful; she reduced them to annoying tourists and that didn't settle with me. To me, Ifemelu was outspoken and observant — not judgmental. Through a "Blogging While Brown" conference held in Washington D.C., we learn that Blaine and Ifemelu's rekindle their flame and she recognizes the intimacy she felt with Obinze years ago. Blaine's passion for academia made Ifemelu feel secure, but ultimately, he was too sensitive for her — plus, Ifemelu didn't like his sister, Shan, anyway. Though Ifemelu disliked her, Shan did say one very true statement about her book when it flopped: "My editor reads the manuscript and says, 'I understand that race is important here but we have to make sure the book transcends race, so that it's not just about race.' And I'm thinking, But why do I have to transcend race? You know, like race is a brew best served mild, tempered with other liquids, otherwise white folk can't swallow it."

Shan wasn't shy and Ifemelu's reluctant way of cowering in the shadow of women important to the men she was dating hindered their relationship, and ultimately, this constant misunderstanding of the world eventually drove her home. But, before she can truly prepare to leave, Dike attempts suicide and all of their familial pain becomes desperately obvious; they must have a history of depression and are choosing to ignore it. It's either that or the fact that America's oppressive air suffocates the souls of the newly arrived — and even the natives.

As Ifemelu returns home, Dike visits and learns of his roots, she attempts to find a job at Zoe magazine, and, finally, Obinze comes back. I struggled watching them tiptoe around their love, forcing adult responsibility on the situation by really respecting the emotional space that had grown between them. The familiar, deep love revives over a series of seven months and a grueling four chapters, as they gently become one again. They relearn the mapping of each other's body, their humor and banter comes back quickly, but the appreciation and honesty take some time. Just like I had to rediscover the characters as they reinvented and performed their different selves, Obinze and Ifemelu find each other again at home, at last.

Thanks for reading along with me and please, leave comments with questions, concerns or anything you'd like to talk about — I'm all ears!