Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Americanah' Dream a Nigerian Novelist's Take on America Overflows with Keen Observations and Insights

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Americanah' Dream a Nigerian Novelist's Take on America Overflows with Keen Observations and Insights

Article excerpt

"AMERICANAH"

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Knopf ($26.95).

'Americanah" is a hearty, overcooked novel about race and culture. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes like a dream, but the narrative, stretched to the point of sluggishness, doesn't measure up.

This is the story of Ifemelu and Obindze, lovers in Nigeria who drift apart in professional careers that mirror continental divides. Born poor, the gifted Ifemelu makes it to America on the strength of a college scholarship and begins writing a blog about race called "Raceteenth."

Obindze, more confident but less purposeful than Ifemelu, can't join her in the U.S.; after 9/11, immigration became an obstacle to Nigerians hankering for America, so he instead goes to London, where he begins to make shadowy money. Obindze returns to Nigeria and, thanks to political connections available in the new democracy, launches a lucrative career in Lagos real estate. Lagos effectively becomes a character in Ms. Adichie's affectionate, overwrought book.

Among other locales Ms. Adichie deftly evokes in her first novel in seven years: Princeton, the New Jersey grove of academe that allows Ifemelu to nurse her blog, and Trenton, the funkier city nearby where she goes to get her hair braided. The salon where Ifemelu interacts with other African immigrants becomes a symbol of her cultural and geographical unease. But it also feels like a trope.

Ms. Adichie is a precise observer, and her reading of cultural nuance is acute. Early in her American sojourn, Ifemelu stays with Aunty Uju in Brooklyn:

"At the grocery store, Aunty Uju never bought what she needed; instead she bought what was on sale and made herself need it," Ms. Adichie writes, her viewpoint Ifemelu's. "She would take the colorful flier at the entrance of Key Food, and go looking for the sale items, aisle after aisle, while Ifemelu wheeled the cart and Dike walked along. …

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