The latest addition to my website is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Americanah, her third novel. As should happen, her second novel was much better than her first and this one is much better than her second one and, given that the second one was a very fine novel that definitely means that this one is a very fine novel indeed. First of all, this novel is a love story. Ifemelu, like her creator and the heroines of the two previous novels, is an Igbo woman. At high school, she meets and falls for Obinze. They start a relationship and everything seems to be going very well She then gets an opportunity to go and study in the United States. It is planned that Obinze will join her later. However, he cannot get a visa, while she has a lot of difficulty in the US, primarily financial, and falls into a state of depression. As a result of her depression, she stops communicating with Obinze, not answering his phone calls or his emails. Eventually, she gets out of her depression but then starts a relationship with the rich, white cousin of her employer (she works as a babysitter). Meanwhile, Obinze has been to England and been deported when his visa expires, become a successful businessman back in Nigeria, thanks to connections, and married and had a child. At the start of the book, Ifemelu has been thirteen years in the US and wants to return to Nigeria. While planning to do so, she contacts Obinze and they resume an email correspondence.
While it is a nice love story, that is not what makes this book. Ifemelu has a blog while in the US called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black which gives lots of incisive comments about race, not just the racism of whites to blacks (and vice versa) but the differences between African-Americans and American-Africans (i.e. Africans who have come to live in the US) and between Africans of different countries. While this blog is a superb commentary on the issue, Adichie superbly illustrates the issue of racism through the story, with events, comments by different characters and the astute observations of Ifemelu. I challenge anybody and certainly any white person not to learn a lot about the issue from this novel. However, it is not a lecture or diatribe. It is cleverly told, full of humour but with telling comments on the issue and, while it is mainly aimed at people in the US, whether US-born or those that have come to the US from Africa, Obinze’s stay in England and the situation in Nigeria (Ifemelu and Adichie are both Igbos and, therefore different from the Yorubas and Hausas) give her the opportunity to cover other situations. For me, the best novel on racism, at least racism in the United States towards African-Americans, is Invisible Man but this novel comes very close to that brilliant novel. Though I had always planned to read this novel, my reason for reading it now is because it is on the shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have now read three and a half of the novels on the shortlist and intend to read the remaining two and half in the next few days. There is no doubt that this novel is immeasurably superior to the ones that I have already read, all of which are very fine novels, that it should win hands down.