By Sarah Colombo
In May, PBS launched “The Great American Read,” a campaign to find America’s most-loved novel. Using a nationwide poll, a panel of experts narrowed down Americans’ favorite books to a list of the top 100. From May through October, PBS will air 8 specials about the top 100 books featuring authors, experts, and celebrities discussing the books and their themes. Throughout this period, anyone can vote on which book from the top 100 is his or her most-loved. To participate, visit pbs.org/the-great-american-read. All titles are available at the West Baton Rouge Library, along with a print-out of the list. This month, I would like to share my favorite book from the list.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, young Nigerians in love. Wishing to escape the military dictatorship in Nigeria, they take separate paths to leave the country. Ifemelu ends up in America where she goes to college. There she feels isolated, experiences trauma, and learns about American black identity, starting a popular blog about her experience.
Obinze is denied the ability to immigrate to the United States due to stricter rules after 9-11. He moves to London where he lives as an undocumented citizen once his visa expires. After years apart, Ifemelu and Obinze find their way back to Nigeria, where they reconnect and decide if they will rekindle their relationship.
Adichie’s storytelling is all-absorbing. The characters in Americanah are drawn with nuance, making the reader fall in love with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and read faster and faster to find out what happens next. While the story deals with serious issues like race, identity, and war, it also has a touching romantic plot and a leading lady who is strong, funny, and relatable.
One of the pleasures of reading Americanah are Ifemelu’s insightful observations about America, sometimes about mundane things we take for granted: “She thought it unnecessarily decorative, to have flowered checks in America; it almost took away from the seriousness of a check.”
Adichie’s lovely prose is also a joy, with a simple but elegant way of conveying characters’ emotions: “…her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”
Americanah is a great read for book clubs looking for a hearty discussion, and for fans of Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahiri, or other works with complex characters, layered stories, heart, and humor.