Last week, I started a new job. Needless to say I have been meeting lots of new people, and answering getting-to-know-you type of questions. You know the typical questions: “Where are you from ?”, “Which High-School did you go to ?”, “Which side of town do you live on ?” etc…
There is a question however that I never seem to escape. In the 2 ½ years since I moved back home, one question has never failed to show up in those conversations: “Why did you move back ?” Whenever faced with this question, my answer was different based on the person asking or the situation I was in. These answers varied from “The plan was never to stay abroad” to “My parents were getting older and I wanted to be closed to them”, with the occasional “I wanted to make an impact in my home country”, or its other version “I think I can be a change agent in my country”.
All these answers, while somewhat true, never told the whole story. To be honest, neither could I. I had never been able to clearly formulate the feelings that made me decide to go home. That is until now.
Yes, I have finally found an answer. This answer is so eloquent that I decided to write a whole article on it. From now on, when asked the dreaded question, I will be tempted to tell the people in front of me to grab Americanah and read it.
Americanah is Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fourth book. Chimamanda is a Nigerian author who has been hailed by some as the rightful successor of the great Chinua Achebe and a leader in the new generation of African writers. And I tend to agree.
While a review is supposed to be objective and critical, I will be honest and say this one will probably read like a love letter. It is indeed an ode to a book that answered in a definitive way a question I have often grappled with.
On the surface, Americanah is a typical coming of age/love story trying to address big themes like immigration and racism. For me, Americanah became a lot more. It became the telling of my story, a story that has unfortunately not often been told. Moreover, the story was told from my perspective, the perspective of a young Afropolite by the name of Ifemelu. Ifemelu reminded me a lot of me, of my friends, of girls from my neighborhood growing up: African girls from middle-class upbringings with colorful aunties and mischievous best friends, with opinions on the most random things and lives as complex as any other human being. Those girls, us, have seldom been the main characters in literature, or any major media for that matters.
Chimamanda usually does a pretty good job at talking about “us”… In Americanah, she goes one step further. She allows her character to do the thinking and the talking. Ifemelu is a complicated girl with big dreams, bad judgment, a crazy love life… She is multi-faceted, complex, annoying, smart and funny. She is unapologetically human. Her misguided life choices are atoned by her self-awareness and clever observations. Her flaws make her endearing.
The book also benefited from a rich tapestry of characters and their various interactions. I particularly enjoyed reading about the High School friends and their trajectories through life. Some might find the sheer number of characters overwhelming, but I will argue that it added more to the story than it detracted from it. Sure, as a natural haired blogger who is also a recent returnee, I was probably the “perfect” audience for this book. Ifemelu and I share a lot of similarities (down to the complicated love life – story for another day), and that surely accounted for my appreciation of the story as a whole. Most importantly though, Ifemelu said out loud all the things that I had been thinking, saying to myself or discussing with friends.
The book brilliantly captured the malaise I and some of my fellow returnees felt at some point. That intangible feeling that spurred us to leave the life we constructed abroad for the uncertainty of our home digs. When I was reading the book I almost (ok totally) wept with gratitude at the fact that I made the leap a couple of years ago: the decision to return to this very personal and abstract concept of “home”. Nowadays when people ask me “Why did you move back ?” with their eyebrows slightly raised in a voice that means “who is dumb enough to do such a thing ?” I smile and simply say: “Because Home”.
P.S: For an in-depth review of the book that is not just a love letter, please read this awesome New York Times article by Mike Peed.
What about you? Have you read the book ? Will you ? Share your thoughts with us !