It’s funny how everything we do seems to align at the right moments. I began reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie back in September but kept putting it down as I read as other books and a tumultuous few months pulled me away. Over the past week, I’ve plowed through the 500 pages I had left of the novel and damn does it resonate with life right now.
The book was first published in 2013 to praise before the fanfare of Adichie being featured in Beyoncé’s ***Flawless.
When I read, I also notch the pages that resonate with me so I can reference them in conversation, remember them, and sometimes just be basic and use a line or two for an Instagram caption.
This book is a series of love stories. Ifemelu’s love stories. Her love of family, love of country, lovers and herself. Adichie has a way of using this series of love stories to tell a much deeper tale of immigration, politics, education, culture, intersectionality and race – race being the most important.
Americanah also teaches a much more in-depth, modern way of how certain people move across borders and gain citizenship to Western Countries. (Hint: no large walls are climbed).
So before I start ranting and accidentally give away the entire book, I’m going to shut up. I’ll leave you with my favorite sections below. (Some were too long and there are so many great passages, though; I only picked the few I remembered to flag as I read).
“Everybody is hungry in this country, even the rich men are hungry, but nobody is honest.” p.31
“You know, we live in an ass-licking economy. The biggest problem in this country is not corruption. The problem is that there are many qualified people whoa re not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t know how to lick an ass.” p.93
“They were always smiling in the photos they took, while sailing and hiking and visiting tourist spots, holding each other, all easy limbs and white teeth. They reminded Ifemelu of television commercials, of people whose lives were lived always in flattering light, whose messes were still aesthetically pleasing.” p. 183
“His nails were clean. He was not wearing a wedding band. She began to imagine a relationship, both of them waking up in the winter, cuddling in the stark whiteness of the morning light, drinking English Breakfast tea; she hoped he was one those Americans who liked tea.” p.218
“She felt weak, for not having a passion, not being sure what she wanted to do. Her interests were vague and varied, magazine publishing, fashion, politics, television; none of them had a firm shape.” p.249
“And we saw this quite unbelievable parade of little children with heavily made-up faces and then there was a lot of flag waving and a lot of ‘God Bless America.’ I was terrified that it was the sort of place where you did not know what might happen to you if you suddenly said, ‘I don’t like America.'” p.337
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it.” p.359
“…he came to her door, his hands sunk into the pockets of his tin-colored peacoat and his collar sprinkled with snow like magic dust. She was cooking coconut rice, her apartment thick with spices, a bottle of cheap merlot on her counter, and Nina Simone playing loudly on her CS. The song “Don’t let Me Be Misunderstood” guided them, only minutes after he arrived, across the bridge from flirting friends to lovers on her bed. Afterwards, he propped himself up on his elbow to watch her.” p.382
“She had imagined them both with ginger on their lips, yellow curry licked off her body, bay leaves crushed beneath them, but instead they had been so responsible, kidding in the living room and then her leading him to her bedroom.” p.383
“Shan dripped power, a subtle and devastating kind.” p.395
“They wore their love like a heavy perfume, exuding a transparent commitment, touching each other, referring to each other.” p.399
“Blacks actually don’t WANT it to be race. They would rather not have racist shit happen. So maybe when they say something is about race, it’s maybe because it actually is? Don’t say “I’m color-blind,” because if you are color-blind, then you need to see a doctor and it means that when a black man is shown on TV as a crime suspect in your neighborhood, all you see if blurry purplish-grayish-creamish figure. Don’t say ‘We’re tired of talking about race’ or ‘The only race is the human race.’ … Don’t bring up your Irish great-grandparents’ suffering. Of course they got a lot of shit from established America. So did the Italians… But there was a hierarchy.” p.404
“Imagine Obama, skin the color of a toasted almond, hair kinky, saying to a census worker — I’m kind of white. Sure you are, she’ll say.” p.419
Mostly because this lady is real and I’ve seen her and this resonated with me as a New Haven native:
“Once, as they walked down Elm Street, on their way to get a sandwich, they saw the plump black woman who was a fixture on campus: always standing near the coffee shop, a woolen hat squashed on her head, offering single plastic red roses to passersby and asking ‘You got any change.'” p.387
What it means to be “Americanah” as described by Adichie herself: