If you don’t know who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, you should.
She’s a literary knockout from Nigeria who’s recent speech “We Should All Be Feminists,” became the second verse in Beyonce’s recent song “Flawless.” And while there’s some great and necessary discussion in regards to Bey’s feminism, Adichie says it best herself when Ifemelu, the main character in Americanah, blogs about “Hair as Race Metaphor,” and asks “We all love Bey but how about she show us, just once, what her hair looks like when it grows from her scalp?”
Actually, much of Americanah is told as Ifemelu is sitting at “Mariama African Hair Braiding” in Trenton, New Jersey, in preparation for her return home to Nigeria after years in the States. And the woman who’s braiding her hair, Aisha, is a great example of the care that Adichie puts into each and every character, while never giving Ifemelu immunity to the assumptions and judgmental reactions we seem to so naturally carry with us.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie understands the danger of “a single story” and the necessity of many voices to speak and be heard, in their own words. In her Ted Talk she states:
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…
The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
And this ideal runs powerfully through Adichie’s 3rd novel, Americanah. This is a novel of many stories, as Ifemelu and Obinze, fall in love and leave Nigeria, Ifemelu for America’s East Coast and Obinze for London. Yet, the way in which Adichie develops theeach of her legions of supporting characters, paired with her descriptions of Ifemelu’s experiences, allows for such broad strokes of understanding that the complex nature of personal, social, and cultural awareness is consistently at the forefront.
Adichie’s novel is just as approachable as it is powerful. As Ifemelu navigates success and failures, the reader is treated to language that is as funny as it is meaningful, as conversational as it is devastatingly political.
In a country currently faced (again and again) with its long history of racism and discrimination, Adichie’s voice is that shining light that illuminates these issues clearly, and in a manner that is groundbreaking. We, as readers, experience racism through the eyes of a Nigerian woman, who experiences not only the racism that African Americans face, but also the discrimination against those deemed “foreigners,” along with the discrimination of being a woman who struggles with poverty. These layers of experience, of meaning, and of awareness are woven together by Adichie’s deft hand.
Not only is Americanah an amazing novel, it’s as necessary as it is a joy to read. And the author proves her own words, again from her recent Ted Talk:
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity…(quoting Alice Walker)…when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.