Americanah — Please Smack This Woman



Ifemelu didn’t know she was black – until, as a teenager, she came to America from Nigeria. She’s the focus of Nigerian/American Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel, Americanah. It’s garnered great reviews as penetrating social commentary about both countries.

Many novels are non-chronological, often starting with a dramatic scene and then going to the backstory. I get that. But Americanah cut back and forth so much that I had trouble keeping things straight.

Ifemelu’s teenaged Nigerian boyfriend was Obinze. It was no casual attachment, but portrayed as obviously quite deep. Yet soon after arriving in America, she stops reading or answering his e-mails and letters, cuts him off without a word. Why? No reason I could see. Near the end she gives a reason; but (to me) a lame one.

article-1162718-03F37C2E000005DC-317_468x377Soon she’s in a fairy tale romance with Curt – handsome, rich, charming, warm, smart – white – and mad for her. They’re jetting to London and Paris on whim, etc. Then Ifemelu, for no particular reason, has a one night stand with a pallid grunge musician. Credible? Maybe. She informs Curt. Credible? Not so much. Curt throws her out. Credible? Well – I had a similar experience once (for a different, stupider reason).

Unknown-1Then Ifemelu starts a blog on race matters from the perspective of a non-American black. Many blog postings are given verbatim. We’re apparently supposed to think they’re highly insightful and provocative. I did not. To me they flogged tired, whiny racial tropes we’ve heard a thousand times. Yet Ifemelu’s blog is wildly successful, she actually gets a living from it, attracting contributions and advertisers, speaking gigs proliferate, and she winds up with a Princeton fellowship.

Unknown(How does this happen? Someone please tell me – my blog, since ’08, obviously has highly excellent content, but its readership could fit in a phone booth (well, OK, a big one, and it would be very tight), and I’ve never earned a cent. Of course, I do it for love.)

images-1The book is full of party scenes — populated by effete, politically hip intellectual poseurs. They’re mildly satirized, which is mild fun, up to a point, but enough is enough.

Ifemelu’s next live-in boyfriend is Blaine, a black Yale professor, another Prince Charming. So maybe it’s not an epic passion, but c’mon, a lot of folks would kill for such a nice mellow relationship. Yet after several years (and 13 in America) Ifemelu decides to chuck it all – Blaine, blog, Princeton – to return to Nigeria. Why? Beats me.

images-2It’s not as though Nigeria has improved since she left. Indeed, it’s gone downhill, growing even more dysfunctional and corrupt. The typical American hasn’t the faintest idea how different a nation like that is. Adichie does illuminate a lot of Nigeria’s rottenness. And yet, another thing I disliked about the book is its narrow portrayal of the country – the only Nigerians we meet are middle or upper class or intelligentsia.images There’s no sense that this is a thin crust atop a vast populace at best just eking out an existence. Those Nigerian masses are invisible here.

(Also unmentioned is Boko Haram, now in control of a large territory – showing that Nigeria’s government and army exist only for predation, and are useless to help or protect the populace. Yet, doing end-runs around their useless government, Nigeria’s creative and enterprising people are bubbling with entrepreneurship.)

Once back there, Ifemelu starts a new blog, about Nigeria (or at least that thin crust) – again a roaring success. She has an old friend, Ranyi, in fact a very good loyal friend who helps Ifemelu a lot. Ranyi is the kept woman of a married “big man,” a common Nigerian situation, which Ifemelu scathingly blogs about, the portrayal of Ranyi being unmistakeable. Ranyi complains. Ifemelu blows her off, saying she really had in mind her own Aunty Uju, whose being a general’s mistress “destroyed” her life.

Say what?

Destroyed? Aunty Uju, when her general suddenly croaked, got out of Nigeria with enough to reach America and became a doctor. And brought up the general’s child as her well beloved son.

I found Ifemelu unlikeable. If that was the author’s intent, she succeeded, but somehow I doubt it was. This novel had a very autobiographical feel.

UnknownThere’s still Obinze, Ifemelu’s teen heart-throb. We’ve been following his adventures too. He’s become quite rich – the Nigerian way, that is, by sucking up to a “big man” who lets him in on a deal plundering the public treasury. Despite this, Obinze is yet another guy portrayed too good to be true, a saint so bursting with virtues and devoid of faults that it made me gag.

Ifemelu finally contacts him before her return to Nigeria. And then, once there, fails to follow up. Would someone please smack this woman upside the head? But maybe it’s just my biased perspective. I worked so hard to get a good partner, and value her so much, that Ifemelu’s insouciance rankles.

Unknown-2Of course I won’t reveal the ending, but you can guess it. Such endings are supposed to be satisfying to the reader. But I felt a less saccharine conclusion would have been truer to what preceded it.

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4 Responses to “Americanah — Please Smack This Woman”

  1. Opus1605 Says:

    Is the book for extending charity to African kids? If not why are you so bent on the poverty stricken images of Nigerian kids?

    I’m Nigerian but I’m not exactly a fan of Chimamanda’s, so I haven’t heard or read the book. I honestly think Chimamanda is flawed in a sense or two, because I have heard one of her speeches, and didn’t like it. After hearing that speech I concluded that she was one of those black kids that wished they were White.

    When a black person comes to the West, they never know that there is a problem with the color of their skin until entering a racist nation. She didn’t know she was black, black in perspective of White’s, not just the color black but all that encompasses being black.

    I don’t know why Ifemelu would choose a white man, because a white man can never truly love a black woman- So I agree a it’s a fairy tale, just my opinion.

    Those whinny racial tropes are the truth about race that bigots refuse and pretend don’t exist, or didn’t happen, and they are bent on portraying themselves as saviors of the fucking world- Yeah whatever.

    The nations of the West are worse in corruption than anywhere else in the world. They shoot to kill, and kill over nothing, such as a black person standing on a fucking lawn. The police is corrupt, they shoot and kill as they please, men rape their own kids and kids in general, and kill their wives as if it’s nothing. Young crack heads walk into theaters packed with happy people, and blow them away with bombs, because they are disgusted with life, tell me what can be more corrupt than this? And is this happening in Nigeria?

    Does the media not have enough poverty stricken images of African kids here in the West? Would it be so hard to deal with the upper and middle class for once? Perhaps you should pay attention to the theme of the book, and stop paying so much attention to all the bullshit that should have been included, or you can just write your own version and include all that crap. You will make millions out of it.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks for your comment. You might take a look at this previous post about Africa! —
    What I criticized about the book was not its focus on Nigeria’s better-off per se but, rather, the impression one could get, from reading it, that that’s the only Nigeria there is. As such it is a misleading picture.
    “A white man could never truly love a black woman” — ? Do you really think this? You have a lot to learn about love, my friend.
    Yes, America has problems, it is not a perfect society made up off perfect people. However, as between America and Nigeria, I think it is a fair and objective judgment that Nigeria’s problems are more severe. By far. As an optimist, I believe in the ability of people to overcome problems, and that Nigeria’s people will ultimately do so.

  3. kurt Says:

    “A white man could never truly love a black woman”. Please go on. What could you possibly mean by that?

  4. shemale Says:

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