americanahfeature

On Our Bookshelves:
Americanah

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NOVEL: Americanah

AUTHOR: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013

REVIEW:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s a splendid writer.  This 2013 novel takes us from Nigeria to the United States and back, and she rather ingeniously portrays both the culture shock of her main character, Ifemulu, when she heads west, and the reverse culture shock she experiences upon her return to her native country fifteen years later.

Through Ifemulu’s travels, education, jobs, and relationships, Adichie explores issues of race, identity, class, and ethnicity, and makes some rather trenchant observations.  Ifemulu can be prickly and judgmental, and makes some poor decisions along the way, but overall, I found her to be an immensely likeable character: perceptive, wise, and honest.

A few chapters are told from the perspective of Obinze, Ifemulu’s old boyfriend from back home, as he also leaves Nigeria, leads a shadowy and dangerous existence as an undocumented immigrant in London, gets deported on the eve of a sham marriage, and eventually becomes a wealthy businessman and land developer in a newly prosperous Nigeria.  As sometimes happens with contemporary novels, I realized, when encountering Obinze in London, that I’d read the chapter before, as a short story in The New Yorker.

The novel is not without its flaws.  There were a few too many scenes mocking pretentious wealthy westerners at cocktail parties (they must be fun to write), more of Ifemulu’s blog posts than seemed entirely necessary, and far too many details about secondary characters.  Actually, in my opinion, there were too many secondary characters altogether, characters who didn’t add anything of substance to the plot or to Ifemulu’s journey.  An editor with a firm hand could have cut it down by a hundred or so pages.

But still.  It’s a good meld of social satire and a traditional love story.  I liked Ifemulu, I liked Obinze, and I would dearly love to meet their creator.  Although she’s sometimes angry with the state of the world (and who with a heart and a mind isn’t?) she seems to have a delightful sense of humor.  Plus she did this 2009 TED Talk which I think is absolutely phenomenal and well worth 18 minutes and 46 seconds of your time: The Danger of a Single Story

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3.5 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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ALSO ON OUR BOOKSHELVES:

A Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Heads In Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

What If?, Randall Munroe

Up At The Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Vlada Young / Shutterstock.com

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com