Nigerian and American Expectations Collide in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Novel “Americanah”
I just finished Americanah, a wonderful novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of Purple Hibiscus, among others. Adichie came to my attention through her non-fiction work, We Should All Be Feminists, but her fiction should not be missed.
Americanah tells the story of a Nigerian woman’s years in the US, and her eventual return to Nigeria. I was attracted to this novel because I usually enjoy expat stories and cross-cultural adventures, and I thought it would be an interesting way to learn more about Nigeria. Adichie handles the theme well, blending moments of cultural discovery that will be familiar to any expat, with moments that were uniquely Nigerian (and uniquely Ifemelu). I found Ifemelu’s mixture of reverse culture shock and comfort on her return to Nigeria is particularly moving.
It took a little while for me to adjust to Adichie’s use of detailed description or general outlines. For example, Adichie didn’t get into much detail about Ifemelu’s college courses, but she did have a lot to say about Ifemelu’s chats with taxi drivers or her difficulties getting her hair braided. I found myself reading more slowly in order to pick up on the details, and since the info given wasn’t what I expected, I had to ask why hair relaxer and different braiding styles kept coming up. As the American social expectations around natural African hair became clear to Ifemelu, the reason for all the details became clear to me as a reader, too.
This novel can be viewed as a thoughtful look at racial relations, a story about the different selves of expat life, or both at the same time.