Why Everyone — Not Just New Yorkers — Should Read ‘Americanah’ Now
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah was chosen by New Yorkers for their inaugural One Book, One New York program. It’s a wonderful selection — Adichie’s sharp, observant novel is a distinct pleasure to read, and has been receiving critical accolades since its publication in 2013.
The story of a young Nigerian couple who take two separate paths — one receives admission at an American university, while the other tries his luck overstaying a work visa in England — illustrates not just the general experience of being black in a largely white society, but highly nuanced observations about the difference between an African American (someone whose ancestors are from Africa but has called America home since birth) and an American African (recent immigrants who essentially only became aware that they were “black” upon arriving in the U.S.). The ways American Africans are treated by white Americans is distinct from how they treat African Americans — and the ways African Americans treat American Africans is also unique and mired in its own tension. And, of course, the issues of race and immigration manifest into distinct and separate pressures in English society.
Adiche’s clear-eyed and rational observations on race, culture, and immigration are fascinating and absorbing at any time, but they feel especially poignant and powerful at this moment. American society at large has become much more aware of the myriad ways race affects just about every aspect of a person’s life and opportunities, and the bright light shining on those centuries-old wounds can be blindingly painful at times. Meanwhile, immigration has become a centerpiece of our political discourse, with much of the debate centering around the “right” and the “wrong” ways to become an American citizen. Americanah addresses these issues in spades, without ever sliding into polemics or outright satirization. And as much as the novel addresses these critical societal concerns, at its heart it remains the coming of age story of two young people who find it hard to find a place that feels like home. Their story is one everyone can identify with — and one everyone should read.
Want to listen to more from Adichie? Check out several of her works, including her new release Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, on Scribd.
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