I enjoyed this book because it challenged me to think about things that I don’t usually think about very much: namely, race. I think the most important thing that Americanah showed me is the significance of white privilege and the way that, in Western society, we now tend to push race out of the picture and pretend that racism, and specifically institutionalised racism, doesn’t exist any more. While I knew that white privilege existed and that, in some abstract kind of way, it applied to me, this novel made me realise that the very fact that I rarely think about race, in terms of my own skin colour, symbolises my privilege. I certainly would never consider myself as ‘privileged’ but this is a different kind of privilege that is not really to do with wealth or lifestyle but with opportunity and social judgement.
The novel mainly focusses on America but it made me think of an article that I read recently about British politicians in parliament (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/08/record-numbers-female-minority-ethnic-mps-commons). After the general election I was pleased to see that the number of women in parliament has increased to 29% – certainly a way to go, but definitely an improvement! However scrolling further down the article, I was shocked to see the statistic for non-white politicians. The claim of ‘record numbers’ seems like a joke when faced with the fact that only 6.6% of politicians are non-white and I think this says a lot about white privilege. I am strongly in support of gender equality but the ethnicity statistics really put things in perspective (the number of privately educated MPs is a whole other kettle of fish!) It is ridiculous that basically only white, and largely male, people are supposed to represent the variety and diversity of our population.
I have digressed! But I think it is telling that the novel provokes thought on race in real terms. Americanah made me think about the felt consequences of racism in my own country, where ordinarily I think in a lot of cases, it is conveniently brushed under the carpet. I think the novel also showed the complexities and idiosyncrasies of identity and experience, especially in the section about Obama’s run for, and subsequent election, as President and the differences Ifemelu notices when she returns to Nigeria after her time in America. The extensive geographical span of the novel brilliantly captures cultural differences and perceptions between the different continents. I enjoyed the gentle critique of the liberal, intellectual circle that Ifemelu encounters during her relationship with Blaine and their sometimes valid but often naive viewpoints, as well as the portrayal of the attitudes and experiences of the ‘non-American blacks’ whom Ifemelu observes in her blog. .
The novel is also a love story and a good one at that. (POTENTIAL SPOILER coming up) However I was just marginally disappointed with the ending, as I felt it was in some ways a bit too predictable. I’m usually a sucker for a happy ending but this time, although it is still left with a hint of ambiguity, it felt a little forced.
Apart from this, I really loved this novel and would thoroughly recommend! I am looking forward to reading Adichie’s other novels.
As a side note, I think Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is awesome and you should definitely look her up if you don’t know who she is. See below: