STUNTED GROWTH AND AMERI-CARNAL STUNTS
A One Page Review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.
You would expect a third book from a winning author to go one step higher on the previous two, wouldn’t you? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah does not disappoint. The 477 pager has some of the most authentic, natural conversations in modern fiction, a veritable harvest of rich psychologically weighed human communication, informing from what is said and what is left unsaid. Some moments in the narrative are close to sublime; the introduction of the protagonist’s surname, for instance, by way of a gasp from his girlfriend: Obinze Maduewesi! We also see the reconvening young lovers, riding the first waves of suspicion, tentative with each other, their conversations on tiptoe, the hugs abridged.
If the dialogue and overall form menu are a literary connoisseur’s delight, it is the seven-course main serving that drips with question marks. This novel could be humanized as a universal tourist guide, yet the two main characters, the Americophile Obinze and the headstrong Ifemelu miss their way when it matters most. Americanah dazzles and puzzles. Essentially, it is a beau-belle love story wrecked by the belle’s inability, or refusal, to grow up. After suffering rejection as a student in America from an unkind job universe, Ifemelu finally settles for the slut slot, as a masseuse on a sexually depraved tennis coach. It’s a job with a forbidding job description. After day one, she quits, but the episode had bored deep into her psyche, transforming her irretrievably. This is the story’s turning point.
The author, it seems, was never at the mercy of her narrative; she had it dance to her whim, with its cosmopolitan trappings. She makes Ifemelu morph into a self-sabotager, flaunting her heartbreaker café credentials and meddling with marriages. Like Elechi Amadi’s Ihuoma [The Concubine], the male world is kind to Ifemelu: Obinze, Curt, Blaine, etc; Ihuoma’s reciprocal love, ironically, leaves each of her lovers in the grave; in Ifem’s case, they survive despite unkind cuts she deals them. But it’s a survival that leaves them reeling, before a bogus reconciliation or, in Obinze’s case, an insidious one. By the time a returnee Ifemelu and a married, newly wealthy Obinze reconnect, the author had roped you into her schemes; you want to see the messy end to the temptress’s Ameri-carnal boulevard stunts.
In CNA’s Nigeria, there are no born-again Christians; only impostors (almost stock characters) like Ranyinudo, an usher in a pentecostal church dating a married man, and blighted folk like Ifemelu’s mum, condemning adultery but qualms-lessly enjoying its trappings. It’s the same specie if you go down Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck roads.
The story would be tighter if the entire segment about Obinze’s misadventure in England was taken off, losing nothing except, possibly, the inconsequential knowledge of Emenike’s metamorphosis.
This is the book your mum does not recommend for you as a teen, but which you end up reading anyway; your relationships guide from your Agony Aunt of the blogging era. Americanah serves sex, but not with aperitif; she doesn’t build up your lust, it just happens off the very paragraph you are reading. Still, it is a crazy narratology that, because it gives so much textual bandwidth to the Obinze-Ifem teen romance, and so little to Obinze’s marriage to Kosi, prepares the reader to tolerate or even salivate for Ifem’s brazen, marriage-wrecking flirtations with him. It’s the tragedy of a twosome who blatantly refuse to outgrow the fervor of youth, but allow the memory of what should have been a passing fad to cast a poisonous shadow over their adult lives.
Publisher : Farafina Books, 2013.
Reviewer: Anaele Ihuoma
Review type: One-page review series, 600-word . (Two page version also available)