BOOK: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
IN SHORT: Americanah is the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. and becomes a keen critic of our society; in parallel, we follow her true love, Obinze, as he tries to make his own way West.
THE FAVORITE BIT: My favorite bit of Americanah comes exceptionally early: with Ifemelu’s email to Obinze. It actually involves two emails that Ifemelu sends her now-married ex-boyfriend from America, following her long absence from both their shared native country (Nigeria) and their shared life together. The earlier one is referenced: “A gracious email. He hated it. He hated it so much that he Googled the black American (Ifemelu’s boyfriend)—and why should she give him the man’s full name if not because she wanted him Googled?”
The second email is the more promising one (even from the married Obinze’s perspective). “Ceiling, kedu?” “Ceiling” is her nickname for him, “kedu” means “hello” or “how are you.” It continues: “Hope all is well with work and family. Ranyinudo said she ran into you some time ago and that you now have a child! Proud Papa.” At the end of the brief message, she tells him that after many years in America, Ifemelu is about to return to Lagos, where he makes his home with his wife and their daughter.
The best part comes next, in his reply: He is so incensed by Ifemelu’s mention of the African-American boyfriend (actually an ex-boyfriend, though Obinze has no way of knowing this) that he replies with this: Thank you for the good wishes. I have never been happier in my life.
I love this response because it is so true to life, and also because it so ably observes all the ways that we mask our true selves in digital communication — which is, now, most of our communication. We know enough about Obinze to realize that this is a lie; we do not know, and will not for many pages, how these long-buried antagonisms will play out.
This comes, by the way, right before the explanation behind the nickname Ceiling, which I also loved. These two passages, together, left me deeply involved in their relationship, and its uncertain future.
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