Megan O’Grady describes AMERICANAH as, “a love story for our time”, in her review for US Vogue
“I have for a very long time wanted to write an unapologetic love story,” says Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “But one that is very much set in a practical world affected by things like getting a visa and paying rent.”
The Nigerian author’s superb third novel, Americanah (Knopf), is that rare thing in contemporary literary fiction: a lush, big-hearted love story that also happens to be a piercingly funny social critique. A young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, comes to Philadelphia for college, where she’s continually told things like “It’s so sad that people live on less than a dollar a day in Africa.” With her boyfriend Obinze unable to get a visa, Ifemelu has relationships with two Americans: the Waspy, blithely entitled Curt, to whom she explains the significance of Essence magazine (a scene taken directly from Adichie’s own experience with an ex-boyfriend); and the hip African-American Yale professor, Blaine, who listens to Coltrane, eats quinoa, and refers to his friends as “cats.”
As it turns out, Ifemelu’s outsider perspective is precisely what makes her a shrewd analyst of American culture. She starts a blog: Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. In it, she puzzles over the things she sees and the people she meets, writing tartly rueful posts with titles like “Not All Dreadlocked White American Guys Are Down” and “Badly-Dressed White Middle Managers from Ohio Are Not Always What You Think”—the latter about a man shunned by his neighbors after adopting a black child. Coinciding with Ifemelu’s racial awakening is the 2008 presidential election, and her excitement about the Obamas inspires riffs on everything from sexual politics to the future First Lady’s impeccably coiffed hair. “Imagine if Michelle Obama got tired of all that heat and decided to go natural… She would totally rock, but poor Obama would certainly lose the independent vote.”
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