As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Nigeria at the time is under military dictatorship, and people are seeking to leave the country. Ifemelu moves to the United States to study, where she struggles for the first...
Americanah is a 2013 novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for which Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award. Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university. The novel traces Ifemelu's life in both countries, threaded by her love story with high school classmate Obinze. It was Adichie's third novel, published on May 14, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf. A television miniseries, starring and produced by Lupita Nyong'o, is currently in development, set to debut on HBO Max in 2020.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer whose works range from novels to short stories to nonfiction. She was described in The Times Literary Supplement as "the most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature".
Adichie has written the novels Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014). Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017. In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant.
Awards and nominations
On 20 May 2019, Ngozi Adichie received an honorary degree from Yale University.
Adichie on the cover of Ms. magazine in 2014
Year Award Work Result
2002 Caine Prize for African Writing,"You in America" Nominated[A]
Commonwealth Short Story Competition ,"The Tree in Grandma's Garden" ,Nominated[B]
BBCmeasuring Competition ,"That Harmattan Morning" ,Won[C]
2002/2003 David T. Wong International Short Story Prize (PEN American Center Award) "Half of a Yellow Sun" ,Won
2003 O. Henry Prize "The American Embassy" ,Won
2004 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award: Best Debut Fiction Category ,Purple Hibiscus ,Won
Orange Prize Nominated[A]
Booker Prize Nominated[D]
Young Adult Library Services Association Best Books for Young Adults Award ,Nominated
2004/2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize ,Nominated[A]
2005 Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Best First Book (Africa) ,Won
Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Best First Book (overall),Won
2006 National Book Critics Circle Award ,Half of a Yellow Sun ,Nominated
2007 British Book Awards: "Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year" category ,Nominated
James Tait Black Memorial Prize , Nominated
Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Best Book (Africa) ,Nominated[A]
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award: Fiction category ,Won[C]
PEN Beyond Margins Award ,Won[C]
Orange Broadband Prize: Fiction category ,Won
2008 International Dublin Literary Award ,Nominated
Reader's Digest Author of the Year Award, Won
Future Award, Nigeria: Young Person of the Year category,Won
MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant ,Won
2009 International Nonino Prize,Won
Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award,The Thing Around Your Neck Nominated[D]
John Llewellyn Rhys Prize ,Nominated[A]
2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Best Book (Africa) ,Nominated[A]
Dayton Literary Peace Prize,Nominated[B]
2011 This Day Awards: "New Champions for an Enduring Culture" category ,Nominated
2013 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize: Fiction category ,Americanah ,Won
National Book Critics Circle Award: Fiction category, Won
2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, Nominated[A]
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction,Nominated[A]
MTV Africa Music Awards 2014: Personality of the Year,Nominated
2015 International Dublin Literary Award, Americanah ,Nominated[A]
Grammy Awards: Album of the Year,Beyoncé (as featured artist) ,Nominated
2018 PEN Pinter Prize , Won
C^ Joint win
2010 Listed among The New Yorker′s "20 Under 40"
2013 Listed among The New York Times′ "Ten Best Books of 2013", for Americanah
2013 Listed among BBC's "Top Ten Books of 2013", for Americanah
2013 Foreign Policy magazine "Top Global Thinkers of 2013"
2013 Listed among the New African′s "100 Most Influential Africans 2013"
2014 Listed among Africa39 project of 39 writers aged under 40
2015 Listed among Time Magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People"
2015 Commencement Speaker at Wellesley College
2017 Commencement Speaker at Williams College
2018 Class Day Speaker for Harvard University.
2019 Class Day Speaker for Yale University.
Adichie was one of 15 women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue, by guest editor Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
The book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. It won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction), and was shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction of the United Kingdom. The Chicago Tribune awarded Adichie its 2013 Heartland Award for Fiction, "recogniz[ing Americanah as] a novel that engages with important ideas about race, and does so with style, wit and insight."
In March 2017, Americanah was picked as the winner for the "One Book, One New York" program, part of a community reading initiative encouraging all city residents to read the same book.
Americanization is one of the biggest themes in Americanah. In the context of the novel, America itself is a symbol of hope, wealth, social and economic mobility, and, ultimately, disappointment, as Ifemelu learns that the American Dream is a lie and that the advantages she enjoys there often come at a great price. Her Americanization is slow but distinct, and she gradually picks up the slang, adapts to her surroundings (for better or worse), and adopts American politics. Her views on gender and race change because of this, and her blog is devoted to exploring the issue of race as a non-American black in America. She's called Americanah when she returns to Nigeria, having picked up a blunt, American way of speaking and of addressing problems. She resists this label, but it's obvious to the reader that Ifemelu's years in America have changed her.
According to Idowu Faith, “no valid statement can be made on Americanah without deconstructing the term “Americanah” which, more or less, reveals the thesis of the narrative as well as the preoccupation of Adichie in the text.” In Nigerian parlance, the term “Americanah” is an identity term that is premised on a person’s previous experience of living in America. In an interview, Adichie defines Americanah as a Nigerian word that can describe any of those who have been to the US and return American affectations; pretend not to understand their mother tongues any longer; refuse to eat Nigerian food or make constant reference to their life in America.
From this understanding, it is clear that Ifemelu’s decision to return home without worrying about being identified as an “Americanah”, establishes the fact that Adichie is proposing and charting a path for a new kind of migration story whose quintessence is return migration.
Adichie's explorations of sexual education and the perception of sex among youngsters in Nigeria plays a fundamental role in the bildungsroman journey of Ifemelu exploring her sexuality as an adolescent in a puritan post-colonial society.
While many of the migratory experiences in the novel work within migration theory, Adichie simultaneously transcends the borders of international migration theories by introducing a new factor that both influences migration and projects a new perspective on return migration. According to Dustmann and Weiss (2007:237), lack of economic opportunity and escape from natural disaster/persecution are two main reasons individuals migrate throughout history. While identifying the need to flee “choicelessness” as the main reason for much of the migration in the twenty-first century Nigerian setting of the novel, Adichie uses literary dimensions to shake up the foundations of theory. Consequently, the direction of this type of migration, how it affects the bonds of love, how it changes personalities and cultural views, and how it reinterprets identity become the novelist’s major theoretical engagements. In addition, Adichie is concerned with how migration debases and elevates, how it barters and fulfills and, most significantly, how it reinvents.
There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah is a book that manages to do both.
It is ostensibly a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – but it is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.
This is Adichie's third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur "Genius" grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.
So a lot is expected of her. Gratifyingly, Americanah does not disappoint. It tells the story of Ifemelu, a spirited young girl with strong opinions, and her teenage boyfriend, Obinze, who grow up with romanticised notions of the west, shaped by the literature of Graham Greene, Mark Twain and James Baldwin. When Ifemelu is presented with an opportunity to continue her postgraduate studies in Philadelphia, she takes it. Some years later, Obinze, too, goes in search of a better life, but to Britain.
It is at this point that Adichie really begins to flex her muscles as a novelist: the sense of dislocation felt by both characters in two countries with wholly different histories and class structures is expertly rendered. She has an extraordinary eye for the telling nuance of social interaction within a particular kind of liberal elite.
In England, Obinze struggles to get hold of the ever-elusive national security number that will enable him to work legally. The newspapers are full of stories about schools "swamped" by immigrant children and politicians' attempts to clamp down on asylum seekers. Against this backdrop, he is invited to a smug Islington lunch party by Emenike, a former classmate in Nigeria, who has married a high-flying solicitor. The food is served on self-consciously "ethnic" plates brought back from a holiday in India and Obinze is left wondering whether Emenike has become a person "who believed that something was beautiful because it was handmade by poor people in a foreign country, or whether he had simply learned to pretend so".
The polite conversation skates over race and the idea of foreignness, with each guest trying to outdo the next with their earnest political correctness. Adichie skewers their self-satisfaction with lethal accuracy. They "understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls", she writes. "They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well-fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else… were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty."
In America, Ifemelu also finds it difficult to get part-time work. She gets turned away from menial jobs as a waitress, bartender or cashier. Her fellow students speak to her with painful slowness, as if she cannot comprehend basic English. In class, she is singled out as someone who will intuitively understand the plight of African Americans because of some half-formed belief in a nebulous, shared "black" consciousness.
Adichie is particularly good at exposing the contradictory ebb and flow of America's painful attempts to reconcile itself with its recent past, when segregation still persisted in the south. She does so with a wryness and insight that never imposes itself on the flow of the story but which challenges the reader's assumptions with each carefully crafted sentence.
There is the blond, well-heeled Kimberley who means well but says every black woman she sees is "beautiful", despite aesthetic evidence to the contrary. When Ifemelu buys a vintage 1960s dress on eBay she realises that when the original owner would have worn it, black Americans would not have been allowed to vote.
"And maybe," Ifemelu notes, "the original owner was one of those women, in the famous sepia photographs, standing by in hordes outside schools shouting 'Ape!' at young black children because they did not want them to go to school with their young white children."
Eventually, Ifemelu starts blogging about her experiences. Adichie captures the tone of internet chatter with precision – at once both breezy and sporadically furious – and the blogposts add an extra dimension to the plot, allowing the reader to see how Ifemelu sees herself and how she wishes to present herself to the outside world.
A recurring theme of the blogs is the politics of black hair – how women are expected to relax their natural curls with toxic chemicals or weave in bits of someone else's hair in order to conform to comfortable white norms. In fact, much of the novel is written in flashback, as Ifemelu has her hair braided in a New Jersey salon in preparation for going home to Nigeria after 15 years in America, during which she has witnessed Barack Obama's election victory.
The final section of the book follows Ifemelu's return and her reunion with Obinze who is, by now, married to someone else. It is to Adichie's immense credit that such a sprawling, epic book remains so tightly structured. There are, perhaps, one too many of Ifemelu's blogposts and a few extra scenes here and there that could have been cut, but part of Americanah's appeal is its immense, uncontained and beating heart. You can feel Adichie's passion and belief pumping beneath every paragraph.
Americanah is a deeply felt book, written with equal parts lyricism and erudition. More than that, it is an important book – and yet one that never lets its importance weigh down the need to tell a truly gripping human story.
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