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.