Memorable Writing: Americanah

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I picked up Half of a Yellow Sun by chance seven years ago, unaware of the rare literary talent that is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her writing style mesmerized my aspiring-writer brain and, well, filled me with apprehension. How could I ever become that good?

Just because I found out about Adichie by chance, does not mean the world did. Since then a movie adaptation to that book has been released and Beyonce has engraved Adichie’s name (or at lest words) in the minds of Flawless sing-alongs all over the world.

When I heard about its upcoming release, Americanah instantly climbed up to #1 on my wishlist. I was hungry for superb writing, engrossing story, exciting new characters… But even if it had turned out a boring story with not a single likable character, I would have still enjoyed just reading it for the way Adichie’s sentences make me go wow! Well, the book was not boring. It was awesome. It spurs a contradictory discourse on race, but does not fall behind when it comes to character arcs and story pace. Here are some bits that I liked so much I had to take a snap on my phone before reading any further. Some lead to unexpected places, some are unbelievably close to heart and others – just great metaphors or ingenious expressions.

“It reminded her of his friends she had met one weekend, a Nigerian couple visiting from Maryland, their two boys sitting next to them on the sofa, both buttoned-up and stiff, caged in the airlessness of their parents’ immigrant aspirations.

“Ifemelu liked the name of the town, Willow; it sounded to her like freshly squeezed beginnings.

“To sense this about Paula was to feel wanting, compared to her.
‘There’s nothing to be jealous about, Ifem,’ Blaine said.
The fried chicken you eat is not the fried chicken I eat, but it’s the fried chicken that Paula eats.’

“A painful throbbing had started behind her eyes and a mosquito was buzzing nearby and she felt suddenly, guiltily grateful that she had a blue American passport in her bag. It shielded her from choicelessness. She could always leave; she did not have to stay.”

“‘Ugly kwa? What are you talking about? The house is beautiful!’
‘Not to me,” Ifemelu said, and yet she had once found houses like that beautiful. But here she was now, disliking it with the haughty confidence of a person who recognized kitsch.
‘Her generator is as big as my flat and it is completely noiseless,’ Ranyinudo said. ‘Did you notice the generator house on the side of the gate?’
Ifemelu had not noticed. and it piqued her. This was what a true Lagosian should have noticed.

“She spent weekends with her parents, in the old flat, happy simply to sit and look at the walls that had witnessed her childhood;

“‘There is no week that passed that I did not think of you.’ But was that true? Of course there were weeks during which he was folded under layers of her life, but it felt true.”

“… and I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults, I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon’. I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when somebody says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine, thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old.’ I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative? Blaine’s friends said it was and for them, ‘conservative’ is the worst insult you can get.

I also loved the book for its commentary on immigrant life in America, and also on how ‘americanahs’ behave when they get back. It might seem to actual Americans that the experiences Adichie talks about are strictly related to black people and to African immigrants, but they ring true for all nationalities, for all countries, whose people are looking for better life abroad. I can vouch that for Eastern Europeans.

There also were some observation about what American education is like, some peculiarities of it you could only notice if you come from a different educational system. I did experience them in the exact way Adichie describes.

And if I have to wrap up in three words: Read this book!

 

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