For more thoughts as I try to connect my fondness for Scotland, India and West Africa into one incredibly complicated post-colonial knot (and other more edifying writings) check out my regular blog: The Scruffy Rube.
You might recognize Adichie from her now famous TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story”. She’s a marvelous raconteur, personable, sincere, and completely present amongst her audience. She knows what she’s talking about when she talks about an African’s experience in the modern world and the complex reactions to Africans in the west today.
Americanah serves as a platform for these observations. In chronicling the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze–as they do the business of girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl and boy live abroad, girl and boy return to eachother–she lets the characters serve as mouthpieces for ideas, perspectives and beliefs (not unlike how Oscar Wilde used his). While that’s great for sparking a discussion about race, gender, class, identity, academia, profiting off of immigrants, and an array of other topics, it doesn’t necessarily make for a thrilling story.
Instead Adichie seems to favor speechifying over storytelling. Her ideas are provocative and engaging, but might make better fodder for another TED talk or a serious blog (particularly since she occasionally includes blog-esque extracts from Ifemelu’s race conscious blog). The lengthy middle section of the novel (the part after girl loses boy), seems to almost lose the primary force behind the characters, leaving them to observe and opine rather than do much of anything. Maybe that’s the state of things for lovers in my generation–there are certainly fewer beasts to slay and grails to retrieve–but as interesting as the observations are they aren’t the same as a well honed story. Luckily, the beginning and the ends of the book are excellent expressions of young lovers, and every bit as engrossing as a dose of Downtown Abby drama.
I want to be part of a serious conversation about race, and I know that Adichie’s book can start one, I just hope enough readers aren’t so distracted by the lack of “plot” that they let Americanah fall to the ground unfinished. She’s a diamond-sharp-mind and an eloquent writer pursuing vital topics, whether or not this novel serves her goals of observation and story telling, I’m not sure.