I stand in the mirror removing the faux hair that has given the illusion that I have clavicle-length locs. I have grown used to the ‘look’ it’s given me, strutting around with various contortions of the locs sitting high atop my crown. I have also gotten used to the props I’ve been given by my loc sistahs, who thought I was in the “struggle” or a member of the Love-My-Naps Movement (not saying that I’m not). Halfway through reading Americanah, I was seized by the desire to remove these and say hello to the gift the Gods gave me. Ifemelu’s friend, Wambui’s sermon admonishing Black women about “making our hair do things it wasn’t meant to do” got me up, walking to the kitchen, grabbing the shears and finally planting myself in front of the bathroom mirror. I was not ready to deal with the tresses that hadn’t seen a comb in close to 7 months, but I figured I could only prolong it for so long. I cut with careful precision willing self-love for the wash and groom routine that would have to follow.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has given me a story I can identify with…well almost. As usual, Adichie’s characters are full and complex and left me wanting to return the minute I needed to depart for some chore. I inhaled the 477 pages in about 20 hours which is pretty amazing for a slow reader like me. Adichie tells the story (one story) of an educated African immigrant in the U.S. Her voice from The Danger of a Single Story follows me while I root for, and cuss out Ifemelu as she makes her journey studying, living, loving, and working while Black (ahem African) in America. Ifemelu at once irritates and excites me. I suspect this has everything to do with my own identification with her.
Adichie tells a good tale as usual and keeps her readers intrigued with her use of lyrical, quirky and satirical sentences. The wry humor is obvious, in abundance, and in some cases made me, literally laugh out loud. I carried around a notebook recording some of these for later. I also dorkily kept a running dictionary of words I needed to articulate and fold into my own writing vocabulary. So if you are looking for a good story, I would recommend this. A taste of the mirth I was privy to:
“…the soles of his feet ached pleasantly.” (258)
“…a virtuous narrowing of his eyes that announced the high mindedness of their owner.” (310)
“…a bottle of cognac that he had put territorially in front if himself.” (475)
“…she was not pretty, her facial features created no harmony.” (403)
And: “…her nipples, when they got hard, would punctuate those words like inverted commas.” (457)
Adichie does a good job of setting up Ifemelu’s background—home, life, and community as lower middle class, educated, and not escaping from war, starvation, or any other of the myriad of reasons that sometimes bring immigrants to the U.S. Ifemelu arrives FOB into the U.S. via Brooklyn to join her favorite Aunty Uju. She spends the summer with her and then moves into her cushy school and into interacting with the students and professors—white, Black and African. After some serious desperate moves involving finding work, she settles into one and this eventually leads her to her first relationship with an “Oyibo.” Later on, she reconnects with and ends up dating an “Akata.” Both men dote on her but the evidence of racial difference is palpable. Ifemelu develops a sense of self as a Black woman in America and she translates this into/onto a blog she creates to she record her thoughts, opinions and inquiries about race in American society. Her social commentary becomes a money-making venture and opens several doors for her to share these observations with various groups of Americans. After 13 years, she decides to return to her home country, Nigeria; she shuts down the blog and breaks off her relationship. She arrives, tries to adjust, and is reunited with folks from her past. Just as abruptly as she became Black in the U.S., she becomes simply, Nigerian.
Americanah is a story of love, culture shock, transition and transformation, discovery and adaptation, and finally race and hair. The latter two fascinate me because they also seem to be what Adichie really wants to talk about, subtly touches on but often does not return to.