Americanah – An improbable African Love Story

It’s been about a week (honestly it was probably longer but it’s hard to admit that it takes me longer than 48 hours to read a 477 page book. Unlike when I was in primary, high, secondary school and college!). Being a young professional and working dreamer leaves little time to foray in the non fiction world. Nevertheless I digress. I feel very proud to have been able to finish this book – to stick it out to the bitter end. It feels like a good omen like my fortune is going to change and suddenly I will be able to finish all my unfinished business. It’s been a while since I finished a book – poisonwood bible lies unfinished in my library. As does Howard Stern’s onward and The State of Africa but ALAS! I finished Americanah – even though it was 477 long pages and in small print. As I read through I kept wishing I could skip to the end. I kept saying “boy she sure doesn’t make it easy to be literate”. I’m done now and I have mixed feelings.

My first thought – does this really ever even happen? Does an African man really leave his family in search of true love?; What about morality, ideals? Obinze obviously got his wealth from ill gains but that doesn’t seem to matter because well, because he is wealthy! In the book he seems remote from other “big men fronters” because he reads? I don’t get it. And is love so forgiving? She stops talking to you and then you meet and everything slips away. Really? Maybe I’m just skeptical. Or maybe I expect family duty honour above romantic love in this instance. I mean Obinze knew how he felt before he got married non? For better for worse?

And what if it was the other way round? What if it was Ifemelu who was married with a kid? Would she leave her child and her husband for “true love”? Would this happen? It all seems quite an improbable love story to me – and a little sexist. How come Obinze gets to leave?

That said, I love the way Chimamanda writes. I read her short story in Ama Atta Aidoo’s “African Love Story” compilation. I thought it was rather dark and twisted – The story of the married man who died, his side chick left alive by luck while his wife wallowing in misery over his death or perhaps the irony of it all??.

Then, I watched half of a yellow sun and promised myself I would read the book because the movie was so good – and I started (also in the unfinished pile together with purple hibiscus). But need I say it again? I FINISHED AMERICANAH!

My highlights of Americanah were the Ifemelu’s returnee stories and experiences of acclimatisation. Those were funny and yet so true. I could also relate to her experience with Curt – when you hurt someone for being too good or just because. More like wanting something and yet being scared you have it. Does our subconscience purposefully sabotage us because it’s waiting out for the one true love? It all seems a bit improbable to me.

Reading Chimamanda’s happy ending I think about Boakyewaa Glovers “The Justice”. Now that’s a love story I can relate to. Certainly a more probable and excellent read but maybe that’s just because I’m Ghanaian. Maybe this really happens in Nigeria and people find their real loves and leave their wifes. The new lovers aren’t ostracised because the man has money and society is more accepting perhaps.

Reading Americanah I realise I am a fan of Chimamanda and yet I am not a fan. I need to read the other books. Purple hibiscus. That thing around her neck. Half of a Yellow Sun. Then I’ll have a clearer picture of what I feel/think about her writing. All in all it appears to me that socialisation is equally important if not more important than the talent or content of a writers book? Chimamandas international fame seems more as a result of who she knows than what she writes. Boakyewaa Glover could give her a run for her money I believe and yet she hasn’t yet given a TED talk that earned her a sound bite on Beyoncés track. I guess she needs a theme and perhaps a better marketer? The Africa that we all can relate to.

But don’t get it twisted Chimamanda. Im really happy you write. Its always refreshing to see something great out of Africa, the country!

2 responses to “Americanah – An improbable African Love Story

  1. You know i had almost similar thoughts after i finished reading Americanah. I thought… highly improbable and a bit too racially skewed for me. But i dismissed the second thought as the inexperience of one who has not had to live in a racial community or school in a mostly white school.
    I have however read Half of a Yellow Sun (twice), Purple Hibiscus and The thing around your Neck which is how i had to read Americanah, because man, Chimamanda can write! I felt like I had lived through the Biafra war and i had a lot of unchristian thoughts toward the protagonist in Purple Hibiscus (i’m trying not to give it away). Basically, Chimamanda is a great writer. Americanah was not great though.
    Maybe it’s a wave. After having read The Kite Runner (and cried for days!!) and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, And the Mountains Echoed was just so bland and unlike him.

  2. The racial bit is true though. Depending on the part of America you are in it can be more painfully obvious.

    I had a bad experience over ebola while I was there last year. At a point I even stopped saying I was from Africa.

    And what she says about the African Americans is also true – they are on a different level of racial issues stemming all the way from slavery.

    Then there are those who spent their childhood in Africa and moved to the States in later years. There are just so many different racial experiences on the basis of when you leave and what state you end up in. She captured a couple of those scenarios nicely I thought.

    But …thanks for restoring my faith. I will march on to Purple Hibiscus. I know generally, the book is always better. Is the Half of a Yellow sun book better than the movie? I fee a duh coming up! I need some motivation.

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