Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How the Novel Americanah Explores Immigration, Race, and Love

Photo by: Vanderfrog Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Told through a series of flashbacks, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, captures the stories of two Nigerians, Ifemelu and her childhood friend/first love, Obinze, who enter themselves into self-imposed exiles in America and Great Britain after their options for education are squelched by a military dictatorship back home.

Setting the novel in three nations, Adiche focuses on the love story and lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, who sacrifice everything they know not only to escape danger, but also to search for more options and opportunities. Like many Nigerians, they are well-educated and live a comfortable life, but are also raised to strive for the next level that can’t be found in Nigeria. An ocean apart, Obinze finds his new life in Great Britain and Ifemelu finds it in the U.S., but they are still connected not just by their past but their nationality. Similar to many African immigrants, Ifemelu is still connected to her homeland, but when she returns to Nigeria, she faces many decisions and unexpected realizations, not the least being if she should see Obinze again who has also returned.  

We first meet the protagonist, Ifemelu, 13 years after she arrives in the United States. At that point, she is entrenched in American life and struggles to deal with something she never did in Nigeria—race. Ifemelu is an intelligent, strong-willed woman who has her feet on American ground, but her heart resides in both Nigeria and the United States. Through a series of romances and misadventures, she both matures and regresses, taking the reader through a series of topics that look at race and post 9-11 immigration policies.  

Americanah is recommended for mature high school students and makes a great book club read, because it is much more than a novel—it is a provocative springboard to discuss race, love, and immigration through a transnational perspective.  Pair with Adiche’s inspiring Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” and our argumentativewriting graphic organizer to use with students while viewing, and/or Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart.

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