Reviewed by Pastaveia St. John (Air Force)
If you’re looking for a book with drama, romantic flair and a dash of suspense — then look no further than Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In Americanah you get the life story of the main character, Ifemelu. You get to experience her having sex for the first time and not understanding the hype about it (sadly, it wasn’t all that great), interracial dating, emotional infidelity with a married man (her first love, Obinze). As for the other characters, there’s a suicide attempt and a tragic death by aircraft.
The story Ifemelu tells is one of truth, her truth and the way she views the world. More or less it’s about her not finding her place in society. She leaves her home country of Nigeria because she didn’t fit in and now, after being in America for 13 years, she wants to retreat back to Nigeria because she feels she doesn’t belong there, either. She hopes to reconnect with Obinze. The book utilizes several flashbacks to explain the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze. It goes into detail of Obinze’s adventures in London, while Ifemelu was in America, and his deportation back to Nigeria.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu is armed with a savvy aunt, Uju, who is no stranger to drama herself. Uju helps Ifemelu find work, illegally, using a social security card from the aunt’s friend. Ifemelu lands a job as a nanny for a white family, where she befriends the mother, Kimberly. Ifemelu develops a romantic relationship with Curt, a young, white, wealthy man who loves her dearly, but she doesn’t feel “accepted” in his world.
He was upbeat, relentlessly so, in a way that only an American of his kind could be, and there was an infantile quality to this that she found admirable and repulsive. (p. 242)
She quickly realizes that her naïve daydreaming of America and the reality of her day-to-day life are very different.
What’s a girl to do? Why not break up with Curt and start a blog called Raceteenth, or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black and write about topics such as Not All Dreadlocked White American Guys Are Down or Badly-Dressed White Middle Managers from Ohio Are Not Always What You Think.
Ifemelu finds Blaine, the all-around perfect black man, but she doesn’t fit into his world either.
He told her which grains had protein, which vegetables had carotene, which fruits were too sugary. He knew about everything; she was intimidated by this and proud of this and slightly repelled by this. Little domesticities with him, in his apartment on the twentieth floor of a high-rise near campus, became gravid with meaning…and she imagined a crib in the bedroom, a baby inside it, and Blaine carefully blending organic fruits for the baby. He would be a perfect father, this man of careful disciplines. (p. 384)
When he played selections from his complete John Coltrane, he would watch her as she listened, waiting for a rapture he was sure would glaze over her, and then at the end, when she remained untransported, he would quickly avert his eyes. (p. 387)
There came a point in the book where Ifemelu started to get under my skin — when she self-sabotaged her relationships because of her own insecurities. She constantly pushed the men who cared for her away because in her mind she was still longing for the perfect fit, unconsciously.
Mil Spouse Review: So, Pastaveia, I was wondering: Did you get the sense that she needed to be with someone Nigerian, to reconnect with her roots, or that she needed to be with Obinze? (I think she needed to be with Obinze, but maybe I’m just being romantic about it!)
Pastaveia: [It seems like] she was longing for both Obinze and Nigeria. I’ve worked in the field of psychology for about six years and though I don’t have a Ph.D, I’ve found that we as humans will find ways to self-sabotage things because we are afraid of what we really want. Sometimes we know exactly what it is we want, crave or need. And other times it’s buried so deep within us it takes years to discover because we’ve gotten so clever at disguising our feelings or we’re just in denial.
Nigeria became the place she was supposed to be, the only place she could sink her roots in without the constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil. And, of course, there was Obinze. Her first love, her first lover, the only person with whom she had never felt the need to explain herself. (p. 7)
Mil Spouse Review: Pastaveia, you, like Ifemelu, have a popular blog (Be Fearless). Did the fact that Ifemelu was a blogger resonate with you in any way? I thought it was funny when she put up her first blog post, checked it later, saw that nine people had read it, and then instantly took it down! Did you enjoy the fictional blog posts in the book? Have you ever been self-conscious about blogging, or has it come pretty naturally to you?
Pastaveia: I loved them [the blog entries]! To me they seemed like good skit material for Key and Peele or SNL. It would be interesting to see them acted out.
From ‘To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby:’ You must nod back when a black person nods at you in a heavily white area. It is called the black nod. It is a way for black people to say, ‘You are not alone, I am here too.’ -Americanah, p. 274
When I blog, it comes from a place of inspiration. I can relate to her on that level but I’d never pull a posting based on the thoughts and comments of others. I started the blog to overcome my fear of the self-editor.
Mil Spouse Review: Well, that is really admirable!
Pastaveia: For me, sharing my financial journey was very personal because people don’t talk about money with their friends and family openly but everyone wants to spend tons of it. Sean and I want to start a family in the next few years and I would like to stay at home, but I don’t want him to feel pressure to work just to pay bills. I want him to feel that he’s actually taking care of his family, not our past mistakes with credit cards.
Wow, that’s probably way more than you wanted to know.
Mil Spouse Review: Not at all — that’s why I asked!! Thank you so much for your review. I enjoyed Americanah immensely, myself, and it was really fun to hear your take on it.
Pastaveia St. John served twelve years in the Air Force. She writes a funny and inspirational blog called Be Fearless. Check her out on You Tube — I loved this video where she explains why she started her blog and video series, and she has all kinds of great life reminders (don’t listen to the fear troll!). You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.