Americanah and Reading What I Want To

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts lately from book bloggers about the pressure of TBR piles and books sent for review getting in the way of reading for pleasure, and it’s certainly a feeling I can relate to as well. Not to mention that the stresses of the last year have made me want lighter reading than a lot of the books that I feel I ought to read…  So I’m going to follow suit and cut myself some slack. If I don’t want to read a book, I won’t read it. If I don’t like it when I’ve started, I’ll stop, and I don’t have to review everything I read. There.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Now, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate, 2013) is a book that I got a while back and wanted to read, but got distracted by oughts and things I needed to read for other reasons, but I finally got started on it this week and wow, it’s good.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face? Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

So says the blurb. What impressed me most about this book was the way it tackles huge sweeping themes such as race, immigration and corruption at the same time as offering keenly observed details of everyday life in three countries. Similarly I enjoyed, Adichie’s grasp of speech patterns of so many different nationalities in different countries and situations, and the ways they interact – the book has been translated into many different languages and I found myself pondering on what a challenge this must have been.

It’s not always comfortable to read – particularly for a white, middle class person in comfortable circumstances. Once Ifemelus moves to America, race is always there, always an issue: “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,” she says. Adichie  has a gift for skewering our hypocrisies and unconscious assumptions around the subject yet she doesn’t preach. I found this book eye-opening, entertaining and moving, and I will certainly be looking out for more by the author.

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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2 Responses to Americanah and Reading What I Want To

  1. jacquiwine says:

    Good for you! I read Americanah a few months ago and liked it a lot. Like you, I was impressed by the way it tackles big themes, but in a very absorbing and accessible manner. What I found particularly compelling were Ifemelu’s observations of her own experiences along with the way Adichie used these to explore and highlight some of the issues around race and communication.

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Yay, join the movement (yep, I’m one of those mumbling something about reading for pleasure). In fact, I’ve just finished a book today and thought: ‘No, I don’t feel like reviewing that one!’ I’m glad you reviewed this one though – it’s a compelling read.

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