Book Review: Americanah

bo_americanah Read for: FABClub March/April selection
Rating: 4/5
Americanah may not be the perfect novel, but it certainly is an important one. This is a novel about race. More specifically, it’s about race relations in America, the UK and Nigeria. Reading a non-fiction book about this topic is one thing, but to be able to read a novel in which race relations is the major focus brings a new dimension to my understanding of the issue; we see characters in a setting where race is a regular topic of conversation and I found the dialogue to be interesting and informative (despite the fact that the concepts introduced through both character dialogue and the blog posts written by Ifemelu were concepts I was already familiar with). This novel was quite clearly didactic in it’s intentions, the way a non-fiction book would be but in an alternative and possibly more accessible way. I enjoyed the character development, though will admit that none of the characters really had me feeling for them. Obinze in particular seemed really dull. But are likeable characters essential in order to like the book overall? I don’t necessarily think so. I liked the inclusion of the blog posts and discussions about online forums providing information to Ifemelu, Chimamanda succeeded in illustrating the modern age and explaining that race is still a huge issue today, particularly in America. I found it interesting that Ifemelu (whom I can only assume is a character based largely on Chimamanda herself and includes a lot of her opinions and experiences) stated that when she lived in Nigeria she wasn’t “black”, she became “black” when she arrived in America because in America suddenly skin colour matters in a way that it doesn’t in Nigeria (and other countries within Africa). I felt this book did a good job of illustrating life in Nigeria as well as life for a Nigerian living in America or the United Kingdom. She highlights a lot of issues that should be common knowledge but perhaps (sadly) are not. The portions that featured discussions about hair I thought were great; it was an fun way to address the superficial lives of women and how they are pressured to look in today’s society – black women are expected to remove braids and chemically straighten natural hair in order to achieve the more “acceptable” and “professional” look of smooth hair if they wish to become employed and/or be considered an “attractive” woman. The pacing of the novel became slow in the centre and I felt it dragged a bit towards the end, becoming predictable and cliche in places, but the flaws in the story don’t change the fact that this novel is really about Chimamanda’s communications on the topics of society and race. At times the message she is sending comes across as very heavy handed, but as is argued in a scene towards the 3/4 mark in the book, Chimamanda clearly feels that she shouldn’t have to be subtle about this topic. Race should not be something you have to read between the lines to pick up on, nor should you have to be a highly educated academic to be able to understand these concepts. For that reason I really respect what Chimamanda has to say and the way she presents it. It is accessible and will perhaps appeal to a wider audience, one that may not be interested in consciously educating themselves on race but will none-the-less learn some important lessons from this novel.

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