Americanah is a book about two central characters and their love, breakup — life ups and downs —- and reunion in one lifetime. This book details the process of getting married to someone who is kind but you don’t love, how to rebuild a life that has fallen apart, life in another country. It also answers, how to be true to yourself, despite, on the side, being the most opinionated being about everything.
One of the main characters, Ifemelu, also runs a blog.
Summary of Americanah
Ifemelu and Obinze are childhood sweethearts. Both ambitious, they try to plan their future and what they will become, like every teenager who thinks life is linear. The story starts and follows their lives; first, they are together, then they’re apart, Ifemelu in America and Obinze in London. The rest of their childhood is told as a backstory. They both struggle to find their feet, and both get into dirty ‘businesses’ at some point to make money or change their identity in another country. Eventually, they both returned to Nigeria. Again, they fall into another kind of struggle to fit into a lifestyle that is so different from what they are used to outside the country. Obinze returns first gets married, and has two kids. Ifemelu returns later. They both realize their childhood affection isn’t dead yet.
Americanah Main Characters
A young black woman and a writer. Bloggers have opinions, a lot of it, if you ask me. So, yeah, Ifemelu is that lady with lots of details about life in America, beginning when she moves there to study. She writes about her observations and thoughts about culture, the African woman’s hair, and everything she notices every day.
Obinze – to me – is the other half of Ifemelu. They are both thoughtful people, but Obinze is a lot calmer and in control of when and how he speaks. The kind of woman he seeks, Ifemelu, and when they meet and talk, many things fit perfectly. They both love reading, are intelligent, and seek greener pastures outside the country.
Americanah Short Review
Americanah is a heavily thematic book that covers many social issues affecting African Americans, Nigerians in America, and Nigerians in the United Kingdom. It uses characters to explain some things people do because of their race, culture, and background, especially when moving to a culturally and racially diverse place. The book isn’t a universal story but a unique story: some of the events in the book will look strange to readers in different backgrounds or settings.
She named it “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) by a Non-American Black.”
The blog is an integral part of the book. It explores many things about culture, identity, and everything Ifemelu noticed about life in America. She wrote, and the party criticized some of the things she noticed.
Africans, Americans, and African Americans will find her blog updates interesting. You guys think you understand yourself and your behavior. Wait until you read Ifemelu’s posts (and the whole book, to be honest.)
His growth is beautiful to read. Then, his attitude toward life became engaging after he got out of prison and returned to Nigeria. His opinions are subtle and few, unlike Ifemelu’s.
One of the most interesting scenes in the book is about teenage romance.
Ifemelu and Ginika arrived together, the party still at its dawn, the dance floor bare, boys running around with cassette tapes, shyness and awkwardness still undissolved. Each time Ifemelu came to Kayode’s house, she imagined what it was like to live here, in Ikoyi, in a gracious and graveled compound, with servants who wore white.
“See Kayode with the new guy,” Ifemelu said.
“I don’t want to look,” Ginika said. “Are they coming?”
“My shoes are so tight.”
“You can dance in tight shoes,” Ifemelu said.
The boys were before them. Obinze looked overdressed, in a thick corduroy jacket, while Kayode wore a T-shirt and jeans.
“Hey, babes!” Kayode said. He was tall and rangy, with the easy manner of the entitled. “Ginika, meet my friend Obinze. Zed, this is Ginika, the queen God made for you if you are ready to work for it!” He was smirking, already a little drunk, the golden boy making a golden match.
“Hi,” Obinze said to Ginika.
“This is Ifemelu,” Kayode said. “Otherwise known as Ifemsco. She’s Ginika’s right-hand man. If you misbehave, she will flog you.”
The last line describes Ifemelu’s personality – doesn’t take rubbish, doesn’t accept disrespect or bad behavior.
But what’s her definition of bad behavior?
That’s what the bigger part of the book is all about. It turns out there are too many bad behaviors across borders that you will read across hundreds of pages. Yes, her blog posts (opinions) about culture and living (as a black) in America were used to buttress her points. They are like essays about cultures of races and citizens in the countries Ifemelu had lived.
Does that mean it is a dull reading?
You have to define dull.
I loved every bit of the book, but if I reread it, I will definitely skip some of Ifemelu’s blog posts, even though they gave interesting insights on my first read.
Read my book about A Nigerian Born in England:
Life Lessons from Americanah
Some of the things you can learn about life from the novel:
#1. It is important to embrace your identity
From the book, especially from Ifemelu’s POV, we learned that it is important to find your identity. The question, ” Who are you? ” is simple, but it is important that everyone can answer it fluently.
Both Ifemelu and Obinze explore the importance of accepting one’s identity. Ifemelu first disowned hers when she started university and needed to work. She had to change to get a job, but gradually, as the book progressed, she took back her identity and embraced it.
Also, hiding one’s identity comes with a burden that it’s hard to maintain for a long time. It’s like carrying a heavy bag that belongs to someone else for the rest of your life. Saying things so that you can sound like someone else, trying a hairstyle that makes you look a certain way, or using an ID card that isn’t yours.
Yet, at the start, these characters have no choice but to bend to their circumstances. In another country, living off someone else’s income, they have to earn their living, though it’s harder now since they are perceived as outsiders. They have to belong to earn a living. The book takes us through that stage of their lives where they became different, a borrowed identity. Then, it got to the stage where they put all that burden down and took back what was truly theirs. African. Black. Everything about that.
#2. Location can influence what’s acceptable about identity or give you a new identity
The two main characters are Nigerian. They grew up in a country where the topic of race was nonexistent. They only learned they were ‘black’ when they moved to a place where skin color means much more than it used to.
These two learned a lot of new things about what is wrong to say to people and what’s not wrong. For instance, in Chapter One of the book, Ifemelu tried to be careful about using the word ‘fat.’ Where she came from, the word is not always a slur; sometimes, it is used to tell yourself you are eating more or your body is getting a bit more rounder.
But “fat” came back to her last winter, after almost thirteen years, when a man in the line behind her at the supermarket muttered, “Fat people don’t need to be eating that shit,” as she paid for her giant bag of Tostitos. She glanced at him, surprised, mildly offended, and thought it a perfect blog post, how this stranger had decided she was fat. She would file the post under the tag “race, gender and body size.” But back home, as she stood and faced the mirror’s truth, she realized that she had ignored, for too long, the new tightness of her clothes, the rubbing together of her inner thighs, the softer, rounder parts of her that shook when she moved. She was fat.
#3. Identity can be morphed into something new
After they spent years outside of Nigeria, they both returned. But they are no more as Nigerian as they used to be. They are now new people with a new identity — An Americanah….
In another book like The Handmaid’s Tale, we read a version of this when Gilead became controlled, and people are no longer people, but Commander,
#4. Wealth commands respect. More respect is given when the the average people around are poor
Obinze realizes something about wealth and respect when he returns to Nigeria. People respect him a lot because of his financial status. This is a different thing than what he experienced in the United Kingdom.
“It had startled him, too, how easy many other things became, how even just the semblance of wealth oiled his paths. He had only to drive to a gate in his BMW and the gatemen would salute and open it for him, without asking questions. Even the American embassy was different. He had been refused a visa years ago, when he was newly graduated and drunk with American ambitions, but with his new bank statements, he easily got a visa. On his first trip, at the airport in Atlanta, the immigration officer was chatty and warm, asking him, “So how much cash you got?” When Obinze said he didn’t have much, the man looked surprised. “I see Nigerians like you declaring thousands and thousands of dollars all the time.”
This was what he now was, the kind of Nigerian expected to declare a lot of cash at the airport. It brought to him a disorienting strangeness, because his mind had not changed at the same pace as his life, and he felt a hollow space between himself and the person he was supposed to be.”
#5. People rank each other according to community/race/gender
It is a thing in the world that people rank each other not as people but based on the color or the community. And under each group, there are other rankings. For instance, you can’t be black ordinarily. There are black Americans, Africans, and indigenous black Americans – and people tend to express superiority to others depending on where they belong. This superiority is also raked based on the topic being discussed.
Here is a conversation between two black people:
“Nine and already trying to be a drama queen. We pay good money for her to go to private school because the public schools here are useless. Marlon says we’ll move to the suburbs soon so they can go to better schools. Otherwise she will start behaving like these black Americans.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry, you will understand with time,” Jane said, and got up to get some money for the children’s ice cream.
Some behaviors are considered impolite and unexpected of certain kinds of black people — the ‘less privileged blacks,’ the ones who are not citizens, the ones who can easily lose all they are doing in another country if they misbehave. For instance, when it comes to ‘how hard people work at menial jobs,’ some kind of grouping happens. And Ifemelu and Obinze are the kinds that are ranked high to do the oddest of jobs perfectly better than others. When the subject shifts to getting quality jobs, Ifemelu and Obinze’s chances drop drastically to the point of vanishing.
Color matters here, but more than that, under each color, there is a ranking. There is systematic oppression going on, but unlike in Nigeria, where it has to do with wealth, here, it has to do with color.
#6. The rich are consumed with being rich
Obinze visited Chief the next week and then the next…. he sat contentedly, listening to Chief and his guests. They fascinated him, the unsubtle cowering of the almost rich in the presence of the rich, and the rich in the presence of the very rich; to have money, it seemed, was to be consumed by money.
Do You Know Americans? Africans In America, and Nigerians?
This is the question I feel like asking people who haven’t read Americanah. Even if you do, the novel penned many things about these people, their culture, and living close to them in a profound, enlightening, and a bit humorous way. The funny part, the author’s intention isn’t to be funny at all.