When the book begins Ifemelu is preparing to return to Nigeria after living in the US for 13 years, where she will be known as an Americanah, a Nigerian who returns after living in the US. She grew up in modest circumstances, but had sufficient connections to make her way to the US. After living through terrible money troubles, she becomes successful and is able to send money home and eventually return. We hear about her high school and college days in Nigeria, especially about her beloved boyfriend Obinze.
Ifemela becomes successful in the US by writing a blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. One blogpost was titled, "To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby."
Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I'm Jamaican or I'm Ghanian. America doesn't care. So what if you were't "black in your country? You're in America now. We all have our moments of initiation into the Society of Former Negroes. Mine was in a class in undergrad when I was asked to give the black perspective, only I had no idea what that was. So I just made something up.
Over the course of her time in the US we see Ifemela in various circumstances. She has a wealthy white boyfriend who only occasionally is blind to the nuances of race. Then she has an African American boyfriend who teaches at Yale and we hear the perspectives of his friends at the time of the election of Obama. The book also recounts the story of her high school boyfriend Obinze in England where he was never able to get papers so he worked using someone else's identity card and was eventually deported. The racial implications of all these situations are explored.
The author paints a picture of Nigeria as Ifemela finds it, through her Americanized eyes. The storyline of Ifemela and Obinze's love continues in its bumpy path. Obinze has become very wealthy upon his return and the life of high level commerce is recounted.
I noted several references to 419 scams, those emails we all get from someone in Nigeria who can make us rich if we just turn over our bank accounts to them. The number refers to the article in the Nigerian criminal code dealing with fraud.
Adichie has written a book that succeeds both in exploring the nuances of racial identity, as well as creating vital and interesting characters whose lives we come to care about.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, Knoph, 2013, 477 pages.