Adichie is an extraordinarily self-aware thinker and writer, possessing the ability to lambaste society without sneering or patronizing or polemicizing. For her, it seems no great feat to balance high-literary intentions with broad social critique … Many of Adichie’s best observations regard nuances of language. When people are reluctant to say ‘racist,’ they say ‘racially charged.’ The phrase ‘beautiful woman,’ when enunciated in certain tones by certain haughty white women, undoubtedly means ‘ordinary-looking black woman’ … Ifemelu and Obinze represent a new kind of immigrant, ‘raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction.’ They aren’t fleeing war or starvation but ‘the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.’
More than race, Americanah is about all the ways people form their identities: what we put on and what we take off, the things we accumulate and those we discard along the way … Those who stand outside are in a good position to look in, and it is Adichie’s remarkable powers of observation that drive this novel. Every detail feels relevant, because they all work as markers of what the novel calls ‘costume’: the mannerisms and affectations that we use to create an image of ourselves in the eyes of others, and even ourselves … It is rare to come upon a novel that genuinely alters one’s view of the world. For me, Americanah was one of those books.
Adichie is adept at describing her characters’ descent in dignity for the gambit of upward mobility … Ifemelu’s journey in America is informed by experiences of race that won’t seem new to black Americans, though they’re new to her. As an African, and more specifically, as a Nigerian Igbo, she’s not ‘black’ until she comes here … But beyond race, the book is about the immigrant’s quest: self-invention, which is the American subject. Americanah is unique among the booming canon of immigrant literature of the last generation. Its ultimate concern isn’t the challenge of becoming American or the hyphenation that requires, but the challenge of going back home.
Though Americanah takes the shape of a long, star-crossed love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, it is most memorable for its fine-tuned, scathing observations about worldly Nigerians and the ways they create new identities out of pretension and aspiration … The first half of Americanah (the title refers to the newly Americanized Ifemelu) is tough-minded and clear. But Ms. Adichie disappointingly allows her story to slip to the level of a simple romance, leaving her readers to wonder, not very much, whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be reunited. The plot ultimately feels like an excuse for the venting of opinions — and the opinions carry far more conviction than the storytelling does.
Americanah is indeed a novel about being black in the 21st century — in America, Great Britain and Africa, while answering a want ad, choosing a lover, hailing a cab, eating collard greens, watching Barack Obama on television — but you could also call it a novel of immigration and dislocation, just about every page tinged with faint loneliness … The bulk of the novel unfolds in flashback, a long and vivid account of those 15 years of self-imposed exile, some of which were degrading and miserable, others happy and prosperous, all of which offer a thought-provoking perspective on American life.
Throughout Americanah there is a sense that Ms. Adichie believes the world requires a good lecturing and that she is the person to deliver it. The story balloons with unearned smugness. Virtually every secondary character seems to have been introduced for no other reason than to be scolded or belittled … There's something strangely old-fashioned about the strain of intolerance that runs through this book—artistically, it's no different than tendentious Victorian novels in which women of loose virtue are identified by their immodest apparel and saucy table manners. In both cases, morality is confused with moralizing.
Adichie really begins to flex her muscles as a novelist: the sense of dislocation felt by both characters in two countries with wholly different histories and class structures is expertly rendered. She has an extraordinary eye for the telling nuance of social interaction within a particular kind of liberal elite … Adichie is particularly good at exposing the contradictory ebb and flow of America's painful attempts to reconcile itself with its recent past, when segregation still persisted in the south. She does so with a wryness and insight that never imposes itself on the flow of the story but which challenges the reader's assumptions with each carefully crafted sentence.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a scintillating, funny, and heartfelt novel, not least because of Ifemelu, a Nigerian transplant whose 13-year tenure as a resident of the United States has come to an end. She is a complex and unforgettable character … The journeys of these characters, their brush-ups with race, class, politics, literature, family on three continents result in a cerebral and utterly transfixing epic … Among its many strengths, Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home.
Adichie finds the peculiarities of American racial politics fascinating — and also, well, hilarious … These characters are richly drawn, as are even those who make fleeting appearances in the book, from the ladies at Ifemelu's braid shop to Obinze's one kind boss in England. When parts of the plot seem familiar — the perils of emigration, the difficulties of being a foreigner in a new land — Adichie digs in deeply, finding a way to make them fresh.
Americanah is cosmopolitan fiction that seeks universal truths in the particulars of three distinct cultures … Americanah is filled with such provocative aperçus and vivified by its awareness that not all people of African origin speak with the same voice — though all share euphoria in the election of Barack Obama. It provides white American readers the privilege of eavesdropping on the conversations of Africans, African Americans, and African Britons of a variety of backgrounds and personalities … Americanah, which might have benefited from judicious pruning...provides a long and soapy immersion in distinctive lives lived here and now.
An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honesty is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy … Her decision to return home to Nigeria (where she risks being designated as an affected ‘Americanah’) is the turning point of the novel’s touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil.
The years pass, and the world changes: In the America where Ifemelu is increasingly at home, ‘postracial’ is a fond hope, but everyone seems just a little bewildered at how to get there … Think of Adichie’s elegantly written, emotionally believable novel as a kind of update of Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale.
Americanah traverses three genres (romance, comedy of manners, novel of ideas), three nations (Nigeria, Great Britain, the United States), and, within each, a swath of the social spectrum as broad—and as difficult to nail—as the hand spans in a Rachmaninoff concerto. It is a book about identity, nationality, race, difference, loneliness, aspiration, and love, not as distinct entities but in the complex combinatorial relations they possess in real life … In Americanah, Adichie is to blackness what Philip Roth is to Jewishness: its most obsessive taxonomist, its staunchest defender, and its fiercest critic.
Ifemelu dissects American slang. The meaning of Obama. Slovenly American dress, reflective of an easy sense of superiority. American's overly indulgent, self-absorbed child-rearing. The petty infighting among academics. The herd mentality among the upwardly mobile. And, most of all, Americans' screwed-up language and politics of race … Adichie creates scores of characters, but they're flattened types; that's consistent with the often satiric tilt of the novel but does little for making us care about these characters as people … Despite this novel's identity crisis, Adichie's willingness to try something different — and her insistence on posing questions that matter — is bracing.
[Adichie] has rendered a near-flawless novel, one whose language so beautifully captures the surreal experience of an African becoming an American that one walks away with the sense of having read something definitive … It is Ifemelu who will steal your heart, though. Smart, pretty and brutally honest — often hilariously so — she is an immigrant who is mostly unbowed by the intimidating experience of trying to form a new life, and perhaps a new identity, in a society she scarcely understands, one that is run by white people, no less.
Americanah is a hearty, overcooked novel about race and culture. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes like a dream, but the narrative, stretched to the point of sluggishness, doesn't measure up … While Ifemelu is a worthy heroine, her character – skillfully developed and rounded – feels out of balance … While the characters of Americanah aren't defined enough to maintain this critic's interest, Ms. Adichie's insights can snap you to attention.