Where's the book?

Monday, December 12, 2016

#37 An modern immigration story

I love a good immigrant story. And I've read many about Indian immigrants, Italian immigrants, Jewish immigrants. But this may be the first I've read about an African immigrant: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Ifemelu, the narrator, is getting her hair braided in New Jersey, and telling us her story of her childhood in Nigeria, her arrival in America to go to college, and the years since. We also get excerpts from the blog she writes about life as a "Non-American Black" in which she explores Racial Disorder Syndrome (her term). The blog, and the book, are wonderfully written, finely observed, funny at times yet also sad, free of lectures and preaching, a truly individual story that is also universal. We also get the story of the man she left behind, Obinze, who has his own journey from Nigeria to London as an undocumented immigrant, and his eventual return to Lagos.

The story is beautifully written, with complex and fascinating characters, all of whom feel as real as the people you live with. My only complaint would be the back-and-forth to the hair braiding salon, which interrupts the flow of the very compelling story. I understand that Achebe wanted to contrast the narrators success in America with the difficult lives of the women in the hair salon--more stories of arrivals and their ability to adapt--but it felt distracting and unnecessary. But that's a minor quibble. Americanah is a marvelous, absorbing, and wonderful book that sticks with you for a long time.

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