Americanah

I was sick for most of January, and when I’m sick I tend to reach for both comfort foods and comfort books. So I haven’t had much to talk about here, since I’ve mostly been rereading Anne of Green Gables and Sharon Shinn books. But I’ve rejoined the land of the living with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was just stunning, and it reminded me what an impact a good novel can have. (On a related note, did you see this study about how reading novels improves brain function for days afterwards?)

Adichie is a young, female Nigerian writer who has written a couple of other very well-regarded books–Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun–that I enjoyed, but this one really hit home for me. I’m about 90% sure that this is because a lot of this book is set in the U.S., which probably speaks poorly of my ability to empathize with people in other situations. But whatever the reason, the characters in this book felt so real to me it’s like they were walking around next to me and I was just eavesdropping on their lives. Summaries of the book tend to describe it as a love story spanning the years as two teenagers meet in Lagos, drift apart, and meet up again in the present day. And it is that. But it’s also an immigrant story–Ifemelu (the female half of the couple) ends up in the U.S., while Obinze goes to England, and the stories show different sides of the immigrant experience. And it’s about race–in the U.S., in the U.K., and in Nigeria.

I feel like this might make the book sound heavy, and it’s not a romantic comedy, that’s for sure. But again, Ifemelu and Obinze are both such layered, complicated people that I felt like I knew them, and I was interested in finding out what happened to them in the same way I’m interested in my friends’ lives. And it seemed like Adichie felt the same–I felt as if the author really liked these characters and was treating them with respect, even when bad things might be happening.

Also, I originally picked this book up because one of my favorite people online was raving about it. Bim Adewunmi (@bimadew) is a British journalist who is completely hilarious and awesome on Twitter, talking about everything from politics to pop culture. She basically live-tweeted sobbing her way through Eleanor and Park, and when she recommends something I listen. A highly recommended Twitter follow.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Dense, thoughtful, and kind.

You might also like: Adichie’s other books are wonderful, but other good immigrant stories also could include The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Brick Lane by Monica Ali, or even A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

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