26 July 2013

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I adore Adichie's writing (I was a big fan of both Half of a Yellow Sun and That Thing Around Your Neck). For some reason, I find her writing style completely absorbing. It's not that her books are transcendent works of genius -- there is something missing from them that I can't identify, they seem almost too closely bound to actual life? They are a little too neatly constructed? I know those are basically the opposite critiques. Shut up. -- but they are just a wonderful place to spend time in. They're like hanging out with someone you really like and having an interesting conversation. They are very smart, and often quite edgy. This one, in particular, has a lot of extremely incisive and intelligent observations on race, immigration, and identity (a nice companion piece to Baratunde Thurston's How to be Black, which I apparently never posted about but was very impressed by. Smart, funny, and highly readable. Everyone, regardless of their race, will learn something from it.). The highly cynical critic might complain that much of the story seems like an excuse for all this fascinating reflection on racial identity; but they would be missing out on how well realized many of the characters are.

The novel opens with Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who has been living in the US for over 10 years, getting her hair braided in preparation for her return to Nigeria. Over the course of the 6 hours she spends at the salon, we go back in time and learn about her adolescence, and particularly about her former boyfriend. We also get caught up on his life since they parted ways, positioning ourselves to be ready for their reunion. In this sense, the book can seem slightly overdetermined, but one does have to admit that the shifts in chronology are skillfully handled, and the book admirably manages to straddle multiple settings, and bring all of them to life.

Yes, it is in many ways catnip for the Good Liberal Reader. But what can I say; it's a smart and enjoyable book, and a quick read, despite its length. I look forward to seeing what Adichie does next.

No comments: