Intense. That’s the word I often said, when I was reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. The book’s quite intense, and beautifully written.
Americanah could be Adichie’s extraordinary commentary on racism, but what seems most stunning to me is her choice to show the flaws in her characters. I admire her protagonists — Ifemelu and Obinze — for two reasons. A) They are imperfect. B) They are free-spirited. While their imperfections and hypocrisy lead them to commit quite a few mistakes, they do it of their own accord.
Ifemelu cheats on her boyfriend, only to spend a wild night with her neighbour, whom she barely knows. She doesn’t participate in the protest passionately staged by her boyfriend, instead lunches with an acquaintance. Her choices might seem thoughtless, but beneath her rash actions lies the unquenchable thirst to live the life the way she wants. And, I wouldn’t blame her for that.
Americanah is just not about a Nigerian girl paving her way to America, suffering only for being black, still making it big there, but aching to return home because nothing else feels like home. It is about women, who have wilfully imprisoned themselves. It is about women, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill themselves to breathe a whiff of fresh air of freedom. It is about women, who are well-exposed, but empty-headed. It is about women, who are witless, but haughty. It is about women, who are poor and resolute. It is about women, who are rich and broken.
The book also tells me that it takes a lot to muster the courage to be honest to oneself; Ifemelu is unapologetically herself, and I love her that way.