I have to be honest here, I had no idea what AB or NAB and what the difference between the two was before I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Let me give you a hint it is related to racism.
It stands for American Blacks and Non-American Blacks. (I hadn’t even considered that as a possible point of discrimination, Is that racism on my part?)
Adichie has deftly painted a word picture of the differences which are invisible to the Non-African eye. She talks about racism in a refreshing tone, one without self-pity but with almost a humour, the ability to laugh at one’s own plight. Yet she analyses it and compels the reader to look at racism from a perspective other than oneself’s:
“Maybe it’s time to just scrap the word “racist.” Find something new. Like Racial Disorder Syndrome. And we could have different categories for sufferers of this syndrome: mild, medium, and acute.”
One of the main themes of this novel is Race but it is at the heart of it a human story, and a rather heart-warming one at that. Adichie intended to write a love story in the grand tradition of the Mills and Boon and Americanah does leave you gasping for breath but like Adichie correctly writes when talking about what a novel is about:
“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”
Americanah is about two estranged lovers Ifemelu and Obinze who fall in love in Nigeria and are pulled apart in time when Ifemelu moves to America and Obinze to UK. Their experiences as immigrants are evoked and one leaves feeling a familiarity for this estranged couple. A strange affection.
Another issue that Adichie compels the reader to open their eyes to is the Natural Hair Movement. Hair is a recurring motif in the novel and there is an attempt, an appeal almost to the AB and NAB to go natural and wear their kinky hair in style.
Adichie also unabashedly comments on the American Education with the eyes of a Nigerian:
“We watch films in class,” she told Obinze. “They talk about films here as if films are as important as books. So we watch films and then we write a response paper and almost everybody gets an A. Can you imagine? These Americans are not serious”
“But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called ‘participation,’ and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words.”
Adichie also elicits the nuances of Nigerian culture that her characters carry with themselves no matter where they travel and makes them appear familiar and almost charming in their eccentricity.
Americanah, like any well-crafted novel made me think about issues that are not my own and made me feel losses and triumphs that were not my own and yet somehow left me closer and more familiar with my own self.
This novel is one of the reasons why Chimamanda is one of my most favorite authors.