“Americanah,” by Chimamanda Adichie, narrates the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who
moves to the United States to attend university. It also tells the story of Obinze, her
ex-boyfriend who emigrated to the United Kingdom.
This semi-autobiographical novel is painfully accurate in describing the struggles of moving to
another country, especially the United States. Growing up constantly exposed to American culture made me think I would not have many culture shocks. “Americanah” portrays the reality of immigrating, it is not the slang or movie knowledge one struggles with but adjusting to unspoken rules present in conversation. The differences no one tells you about small talk, the unspoken need for political correctness at all times, Minnesota nice, and issues surrounding race. Adichie provides insight into the differences in the perceptions of race between African and African-American people. As a Latinx person, I related to her explanation of how people of color from outside the United States think differently about race. In my country, race is rarely talked about; everyone is of indigenous and white. How closer you were to one heritage or the other did not seem to matter much in my experience. But upon arriving in the United States, I had a category. I was suddenly a person of color, and I was supposed to have a stance on American race relations.
Another heartbreakingly accurate aspect of being an international student depicted in the book is the growing gap between you and your family. As the years pass and you spend more time speaking another language and becoming immersed in another culture, the space between you and the people back home unceasingly widens. As a result, it starts becoming more
difficult for your family to understand who you are becoming and what you are going through. This is a change that is precisely depicted in the novel through the transformation in Ifemelu and Obinze´s relationship with their parents throughout the years they are abroad. Most importantly, Adichie puts words to a feeling I have always had a hard time explaining — why.
This quote from the novel puts it better than I can — “they would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things… none of them starving… but merely hungry for choice and certainty.” All in all, this was not my favorite novel by Adichie. The protagonist came across as self-righteous and judgmental; the story can get a bit slow or boring, and it makes a lot of vast generalizations. However, it does an amazing job in illustrating the reality of moving to the United States.