Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"To Be from the Country of People Who Gave": National Allegory and the United States of Adichie's Americanah

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"To Be from the Country of People Who Gave": National Allegory and the United States of Adichie's Americanah

Article excerpt

Early reviews of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (2013) have alternately lauded and criticized the novel for its representation of Nigerians. Writing in Book Forum, Ruth Franklin praises Adichie for writing "a novel that genuinely alters one's view of the world" (42). Franklin claims that the novel foregrounds her own potential to be "a privileged white woman who does not notice another's agony, "while also subverting white privilege through its sympathetic portrayal of its Nigerian protagonists (42). Yemisi Ogbe, in contrast, writing in the Chronic Review, contends that, in Adichie's book, "Nigeria is really 'just' the preamble to a place where real self-awareness detonates, to America where life breaks up into many vibrant colours and to Obama" (11). The representation of Nigerians, Ogbe argues, is in turn reductive and cliche; the novel includes "references to the usual suspects of 419 pastors, university lecturers' strikes and corruption" (11). Whereas Franklin argues that Americanah challenges stereotypes and Ogbe contends it perpetuates them, both reviewers read Adichie's work in terms of how it depicts the reality of Nigerian lives to an American audience.

Americanah, then, may be readily interpolated into ongoing debates about the function and failures of the representation of "Africa" and "Africans" in Euro-America broadly and the United States specifically. This paper outlines the contours of these debates in a contemporary moment in which the rise of both the Internet and a generation of Afropolitan artists have become integral to discussions of African identity within Anglophone literature. It goes on to suggest that, while this debate about representation and identity highlights questions of class that are central to Adichie's novel, it also tends to perpetuate the assumption that the United States stands at the center of economic and cultural geopolitics. Following Eric Cazdyn and Imre Szeman in After Globalization (2011), the essay explores how interrogating the "now near-universal political and cultural discourse" of American hegemonic power "can allow us to discover unexpected geographies of the current character of global power" (14). Against Ogbe, 1 contend that self-centeredness and self-awareness are the purview not of Americanah's Americans, but of its Nigerians. I also argue, contra Franklin, that it is American citizens, and not Nigerians, who become objects of sympathy in Adichie's book. By assuming the economic and political privilege of its Nigerian protagonists and pitying Americans for their limited opportunities, Americanah presents an alternative, utopie vision of global power in which the United States stands as a foil to the promising future of late Nigerian capitalism.

Contesting "Africa" from Nigeria

In his seminal "An Image of Africa" (1977), Chinua Achebe identifies and condemns the racist trope wherein "Africa" is the "setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor" (788). The "age-long attitude" that "thus reduc[es] Africa to the role of props" for European psychological adventures, Achebe argues, fosters "and continues to foster" the "dehumanization of Africa and Africans" (788). It is a critical commonplace to note that since the essay's publication, the dehumanizing representation that Achebe describes continues to permeate both European and North American representations of "Africa." (1)

At the same time, critiques of such representations are ongoing. Recently, arguments that resist representations of "Africa" as an ahistorical backdrop have proliferated in electronic media. Olatunji Ogunyemi notes that "[t]here is growing evidence of the articulation of geopolitical and sociocultural issues from African perspectives on the Internet" and celebrates the potential of the Internet to challenge problematic western representations of Africa by encouraging "communication from African perspectives" (460, 458). The growing prominence of blogs such as Africa is a Country, which promises "to introduce our readers to work by Africans and non-Africans about the continent and its diaspora that have worked against the old and tired images of Africa, "supports Ogunyemi's qualified optimism, even as that blog itself flags the depressing frequency with which "Africa" is reduced in western media to "famine, Bono, or Barack Obama. …

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