Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

People have been telling me to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah for a good while now, and I am surprised it took me so long. In addition to being a real - though still quite fairytale - love story, it offered modern literature a strong and relevant voice on race, and particularly race in America, told from the 'outside'.

Reading this as a follow-up to Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning was perfectly aligned, in that each looked at American-history-shaping people like Booker T. Washington and Barack Obama from different but shared perspectives. In particular, Adichie and Kendi both highlighted the absolute hope the world experienced when Obama was nominated for the Democratic Party, when he gave his speech on race and when he won the presidency. I am so glad these things are written down.

Side note: What literature will Donald Trump help to inspire?

Americanah was an incredible expression of what it is to be Nigerian, what it is to be a foreigner - in America and in England - and what it is to experience race and love home and abroad. The characters and their dialogue was brilliant. And - like Gyasi's Homegoing and Mbue Behold the Dreamers - this story captures the duality of loving home and loving America while recognizing their flaws. There is no perfect love. There is no perfect country. There is no perfect wealth. But, there is one humanity.

And, also, while America is great in many things, in its imagining of the American Dream, it is 'not heaven'. In the West, particularly given certain conversations back home on immigration, we speak of American/Western borders as if they are the gates to heaven on earth. They are not. What so much literature today is showing readers is that home carries with it a powerful force. It is hard to leave home, but sometimes people are pushed - by a different force - away from home. Or pulled, for education, for economics, etc. But that does not mean home is not precious. (Recommended reading: Matar's The Return, Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Hamid's Exit West.)

I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults, I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon.’ I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when somebody says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine, thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old.’ I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative?
— Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, Americanah

I was especially indebted to Adichie for her mention of mental health throughout the book - bouts of depression and anxiety in both herself and in Dike that would not have been recognized in Nigeria. Healthcare was commented on again toward the end of the book, in the nondescript package of antibiotics Esther was prescribed. May there soon be a fiction book that truly brings these tensions into focus!

The last four pages of this book killed me. So many figurative doors reopened from Ifemelu's past, all suddenly stopped when a knock comes at her literal door. Alas, all good things come to an end. I will let you read on to discover where the book ends, and the rest of her life begins.