Melissa Maerz
May 15, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We gave it a B+

”You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country,” insists one character in Americanah. ”If you write about how people are really affected by race, it’ll be too obvious. Black writers…have two choices, they can do precious or they can do pretentious. When you do neither, nobody knows what to do with you.” Well, this book proves that’s not true. MacArthur ”genius grant” winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a brutally honest novel about race in this country, and it’s not precious or pretentious. It’s gripping.

As the author of 2006’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which took readers inside Nigeria’s civil war, Adichie always gives a voice to characters that many Westerners haven’t heard. And Americanah is no different. The story follows childhood sweethearts Ifemulu and Obinze from their early years in Nigeria to their search for better lives in the U.S. and England. But the love story is mostly an excuse for Adichie to let them rail about what it’s like to be Nigerians in a strange land, and their observations are devastating. Ifemulu notices that students at her American college expect her to talk about ”the black experience,” even though that would mean speaking on behalf of Jamaicans and African-Americans who have nothing in common with her. She argues with her Senegalese hairdresser about whether ”natural” hair shows pride or laziness. She wonders if black women love Obama just because he married a dark-skinned woman. And she rants about these experiences on her blog, laying waste to political correctness, getting her friends to weigh in. Their opinions might surprise you. Your own might too — if this book doesn’t make you rethink them. Americanah isn’t just another novel that’s meant to make people feel better about racism. It’s a conversation starter, one that will have you debating with yourself long after you’ve turned the last page. B+

Memorable Lines

”He said to Professor Hunk: Why must we always talk about race anyway? Can’t we just be human beings? And Professor Hunk replied — that is exactly what white privilege is, that you can say that.”

You May Like