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This title in other editions

Americanah

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Reading Group Guide

1. The first part of Ifemelu’s story is told in flashback while she is having her hair braided at a salon before she returns to Nigeria. Why might Adichie have chosen this structure for storytelling? What happens when the narrator shifts to Obinze’s story? How conscious are you as a reader about the switches in narrative perspective?

2. The novel opens in the Ivy League enclave of Princeton, New Jersey. Ifemelu likes living there because “she could pretend to be someone else, . . . someone adorned with certainty” (3). But she has to go to the largely black city of Trenton, nearby, to have her hair braided. Does this movement between cities indicate a similar split within Ifemelu? Why does she decide to return to Nigeria after thirteen years in America?

3. How much does your own race affect the experience of reading this or any novel? Does race affect a reader’s ability to identify or empathize with the struggles of Ifemelu and Obinze? Ifemelu writes in her blog that “black people are not supposed to be angry about racism” because their anger makes whites uncomfortable (223). Do you agree?

4. Aunty Uju’s relationship with the General serves as an example of one mode of economic survival for a single woman: she attaches herself to a married man who supports her in return for sexual access. But Uju runs into a serious problem when the General dies and political power shifts. Why, given what you learn of Uju’s intelligence and capabilities later, do you think she chose to engage in this relationship with the General instead of remaining independent?

5. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is too eager to capitulate to the demands of fitting in. Uju says, “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (120). Is Uju right in compromising her own identity to a certain extent? How is Dike affected by his mother’s struggles?

6. In the clothing shop she visits with her friend Ginika, Ifemelu notices that the clerk, when asking which of the salespeople helped her, won’t say, “Was it the black girl or the white girl?” because that would be considered a racist way to identify people. “You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things,” Ginika tells her (128). In your opinion and experience, is this a good example of American political correctness about race? Why does Ifemelu find it curious? Do you think these attitudes differ across the United States?

7. For a time, Ifemelu is a babysitter for Kimberly, a white woman who works for a charity in Africa. Adichie writes that “for a moment Ifemelu was sorry to have come from Africa, to be the reason that this beautiful woman, with her bleached teeth and bounteous hair, would have to dig deep to feel such pity, such hopelessness. She smiled brightly, hoping to make Kimberly feel better” (152). How well does Kimberly exemplify the liberal guilt that many white Americans feel toward Africa and Africans?

8. Ifemelu’s experience with the tennis coach is a low point in her life. Why does she avoid being in touch with Obinze afterward (157–58)? Why doesn’t she read his letters? How do you interpret her behavior?

9. In her effort to feel less like an outsider, Ifemelu begins faking an American accent. She feels triumphant when she can do it, and then feels ashamed and resolves to stop (175). Which aspects of her becoming an American are most difficult for Ifemelu as she struggles to figure out how much she will give up of her Nigerian self?

10. Ifemelu realizes that naturally kinky hair is a subject worth blogging about. She notices that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé never appear in public with natural hair. Why not? “Because, you see, it’s not professional, sophisticated, whatever, it’s just not damn normal” (299). Read the blog post “A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor” (299–300), and discuss why hair is a useful way of examining race and culture.

11. What does Ifemelu find satisfying about her relationships with Curt and Blaine? Why does she, eventually, abandon each relationship? Is it possible that she needs to be with someone Nigerian, or does she simply need to be with Obinze?

12. Ifemelu’s blog is a venue for expressing her experience as an African immigrant and for provoking a conversation about race and migration. She says, “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” (406). She asks, “How many other people had become black in America?” (298). Why is the blog so successful? Are there any real-life examples that you know of similar to this?

13. Obinze goes to London, and when his visa expires he is reduced to cleaning toilets (238); eventually he is deported. On his return home, “a new sadness blanketed him, the sadness of his coming days, when he would feel the world slightly off-kilter, his vision unfocused” (286). How does his experience in London affect the decisions he makes when he gets back to Lagos? Why does he marry Kosi? How do these choices and feelings compare to Ifemelu’s?

14. While she is involved with Curt, Ifemelu sleeps with a younger man in her building, out of curiosity. “There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach” (291–92). Is this a common feeling among young women in a universal sense, or is there something more significant in Ifemelu’s restlessness? What makes hers particular, if you feel it is?

15. When reading Obinze’s conversations with Ojiugo, his now-wealthy friend who has married an EU citizen, did you get the sense that those who emigrate lose something of themselves when they enter the competitive struggle in their new culture (Chapter 24), or is it more of a struggle to maintain that former self? Does Adichie suggest that this is a necessary sacrifice? Are all of the characters who leave Nigeria (such as Emenike, Aunty Uju, Bartholomew, and Ginika) similarly compromised?

16. Aunty Uju becomes a doctor in America but still feels the need to seek security through an alliance with Bartholomew, whom she doesn’t seem to love. Why might this be? How well does she understand what her son, Dike, is experiencing as a displaced, fatherless teenager? Why might Dike have attempted suicide?

17. Is the United States presented in generally positive or generally negative ways in Americanah?

18. The term “Americanah” is used for Nigerians who have been changed by having lived in America. Like those in the novel’s Nigerpolitan Club, they have become critical of their native land and culture: “They were sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer” (408). Is the book’s title meant as a criticism of Ifemelu, or simply an accurate word for what she fears she will become (and others may think of her)?

19. How would you describe the qualities that Ifemelu and Obinze admire in each other? How does Adichie sustain the suspense about whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be together until the very last page? What, other than narrative suspense, might be the reason for Adichie’s choice in doing so? Would you consider their union the true homecoming, for both of them?

20. Why is it important to have the perspective of an African writer on race in America? How does reading the story make you more alert to race, and to the cultural identifications within races and mixed races? Did this novel enlarge your own perspective, and if so, how?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

jadelin, September 9, 2014 (view all comments by jadelin)
Americanah is thoughtful novel that explores issues of race and politics in an engrossing and unexpected way. I thoroughly enjoyed how the novel reads--a page turner for sure! It's based on a "love" story between two Nigerian young people. Adichie follows their stories as it spans many many years and many many experiences. I felt the anguish of the identity crisis which occurs when people follow their dreams yet are pulled by their culture of origin. Americanah is a powerful story about immigrants as well, the ways some people adapt themselves to a new life in a new country while others remain steadfast in their sense of belonging to their roots. I highly recommend this novel--it's well written and exposed me to some lessons on parts of the world and experiences I have yet to find myself in!
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chicagomark1960, July 4, 2014 (view all comments by chicagomark1960)
Adichie's offers many insights to race relations, especially between white and black people in America. As a teacher who is deeply involved in equity work in a public school I found this to be accurate and helpful to my work. Overall though, the novel addresses the power to get what one wants. Race is just one source of power and Adichie examines how money, social standing, and physical appearance can all either help or hinder people in their quest to get what they want.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307455925
Author:
Ngozi Adichie, Chimamanda
Publisher:
Anchor
Author:
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20140304
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Pages:
608
Dimensions:
7.9 x 5.1 x 1 in 0.9563 lb

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Product details 608 pages Anchor - English 9780307455925 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Epic in scope and astutely narrated, Adichie's unabashedly frank novel follows Ifemelu as she moves from Nigeria to the U.S. and then back again. This is a book about race, about loneliness, about a love that straddles continents. And it's an absolute treat to read.

"Review" by , “What’s as American as the invention of race? Self-invention. So we are reminded by Adichie’s engaging third novel....Adichie is uniquely positioned to compare racial hierarchies in the United States to social striving in her native Nigeria. She does so in this new work with a ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides of both nations. Americanah is social satire masquerading as romantic comedy....Beyond race, the book is about the immigrant’s quest: self-invention, which is the American subject. Americanah is unique among the booming canon of immigrant literature of the last generation (including writers Junot Díaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gary Shteyngart, Chang-rae Lee, Dinaw Mengestu and Susan Choi). Its ultimate concern isn’t the challenge of becoming American or the hyphenation that requires, but the challenge of going back home....Affecting.”
"Review" by , “Adichie’s brave, sprawling novel tackles the U.S. race complex with a directness and brio no U.S. writer of any color would risk....There’s no question on this or any novel’s resolving [our] race sickness. If it’s so hard to say or do the right thing, what is to be done? [But] Americanah brings a cleansing frankness to a scab on the face of the Republic.”
"Review" by , “Big, moving, deeply provocative....A tiny pinprick in the giant balloon of hot air that has swollen around the subject of race in post-civil-rights-era America. Adichie’s finely observed new book, which combines perfectly calibrated social satire and heartfelt emotion, stands with Invisible Man and The Bluest Eye as a defining work about the experience of being black in America. More than race, Americanah is about all the ways people form their identities: what we put on and what we take off, the things we accumulate and those we discard along the way."
"Review" by , “Adichie’s new novel is part love story, part social critique, and one of the best you’ll read this year. These characters are richly drawn, as are even those who make fleeting appearances, from the ladies at Ifemelu’s braid shop to Obinze’s boss in England....Adichie digs in deeply, finding a way to make them fresh.”
"Review" by , “Epic....A near-flawless novel — one whose language beautifully captures the surreal experience of an African becoming an American....Americanah is both intellectually expansive and urgently intimate, a story about the crushing experience of finding your way in a new land — and the physical and emotional lengths one goes to to feel whole again. Ifemelu — smart, pretty, brutally honest, often hilariously so — will steal your heart.”
"Review" by , “A thrilling and risky piece of writing that takes on taboos, shatters pieties, and combines forthright prose, subversive humor, and a ripping good story....Americanah feels ruthlessly of this moment....[It] homes in on and complicates the single story of the immigrant.”
"Review" by , “Adichie is an extraordinarily self-aware thinker and writer....Americanah [is] a deep-seated discussion of race [that is] also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience. Trenchant and hugely empathetic, both worldly and geographically precise, [it] holds the realities of our times fearlessly before us, [and] never feels false.”
"Review" by , “In Americanah, Adichie is to blackness what Philip Roth is to Jewishness: its most obsessive taxonomist, its staunchest defender, and its fiercest critic. Stories of immigrants adjusting to the United States are as central to American literature as they are to the American Dream. But Americanah [is] a new kind of migration story: a Great Global Novel.”
"Review" by , “Scintillating, funny, and heartfelt....Among its many strengths, Americanah is superlative at making clear just how isolating it can be to live far away from home....Affecting.”
"Review" by , "Americanah is an exhilarating, mind-expanding pleasure of a read. It is a brilliant treatise on race, class and globalization, and also a deep, clear-eyed story about love — and how it can both demand and make possible the struggle to become our most authentic selves.”
"Review" by , “MacArthur fellow Adichie is a word-by-word virtuoso with a sure grasp of social conundrums in Nigeria, East Coast America, and England; an omnivorous eye for resonant detail; a gift for authentic characters; pyrotechnic wit; and deep humanitarianism. Americanah is a courageous, world-class novel about independence, integrity, community, and love — and what it takes to become a ‘full human being.’”
"Review" by , “Elegantly written, emotionally believable....A sensitive portrayal of distant love, broken affinities and culture clash....A fine, adult love story with locations both exotic and familiar.”
"Review" by , “Compelling and important....An unflinching but compassionate observer, Adichie writes a vibrant tale about love, betrayal, and destiny; about racism; and about a society in which honest is extinct and cynicism is the national philosophy. She broadens her canvas to include both America and England, where she illuminates the precarious tightrope existence of culturally and racially displaced immigrants....[A] touching love story and an illuminating portrait of a country still in political turmoil.”
"Review" by , “Witty, wry, and observant, Adichie is a marvelous storyteller who writes passionately about the difficulty of assimilation and the love that binds a man, a woman, and their homeland. Her work should be read by anyone clutching at the belief that we’re living in a post-racial United States.”
"Synopsis" by , One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year and an NBCC Award Finalist

An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick.

A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion — for each other and for their homeland. 

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