Why Every Kenyan Abroad Needs to Read Americanah By Chimamanda
There’s no book more deserving to be the Editor’s Pick for our first issue of African Vines® magazine than Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Americanah. I chose this book because of the way it addresses the issue of culture shock especially for an African. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in the United States or in Canada: the themes of race, identity, culture, love, etc. that the novel addresses resonate deeply with some of the issues that we deal with as we try to make a home away from home.
What makes this book particularly special to me is that an American friend recommended it at a time when I was going through culture shock. I seemed to constantly have misunderstandings with people because of miscommunication or misinterpretation of comments, often leaving me feeling alone and misunderstood. Worse still, I had just moved to the United States as a student, and I was still in the habit of converting every single transaction into Kenyan shillings. The thought of spending USD 100 (10,000 Kenyan shillings ) on basic box braids left me almost terrified. Anyway, when I told her that I was struggling with the adjustment, she strongly recommended that I read Americanah. I was skeptical at first, but I decided to read it given that she had lived in Kenya and was the only one close to understanding what I was going through.
Here is an excerpt from Americanah of a situation that might sound familiar:
“During her first year in America, when she took New Jersey Transit to Penn Station and then the subway to visit Aunty Uju in Flatlands, she was struck by how mostly slim white people got off at the stops in Manhattan and, as the train went further into Brooklyn, the people left were mostly black and fat. She had not thought of then as “fat,” though. She had thought of them as big because one of the things her friend Ginika told her was that “fat” in America was a bad word, heaving with moral judgement like “stupid” or “bastard.”…So she had banished fat from her vocabulary.” Page 6.
Americanah vividly captures what an immigrant from Africa is likely to be going through. It captures the homesickness, the weird questions about Africa that you might have or will encounter at some point during your stay here, the challenges women face trying to get their hair done, and how other Kenyans might perceive you depending on how long you have been living in the United States. It also touches on the uncomfortable or comfortable topic of where we come from, the Mwangi, Atieno, Wafula or Mogaka you might have left behind, and the decisions and challenges we are faced with every day as we navigate the new world. If you ever keep a daily journal from the day you left Kenya till today, there is a chance that you will feel like Chimamanda was looking over your shoulder as she wrote this novel, copying your journal word for word.
If you’re not the type of person who keeps a journal, prepare to be spooked. Because, it will feel like the Americanah is reading your mind and writing the thoughts on the pages as opposed to you reading the novel.
Another reason why I liked this novel so much as to recommend it is that in some strange way, it made me feel validated. It made me realize that I wasn’t crazy or overreacting after all. That someone somewhere actually gets it. I didn’t care that I got validation from a work of fiction either . All that mattered was that it was perfectly normal for me to feel that way.
Here’s another excerpt:
“Later, Ifemelu watched Ginika at her friend Stephanie’s apartment, a bottle of beer poised at her lips, her American-accented words sailing out of her mouth, and was struck by how like her American friends Ginika had become… They all laughed at the same thing and said “Gross!” about the same things; they were well choreographed. Stephanie announced that she had homemade beer in her fridge and everyone chanted “Cool!”…Ifemelu sat on a lone armchair at the end of the room, drinking orange juice, listening to them talk. That company is so evil. Oh my God, I can’t believe there’s so much sugar in this stuff. The internet is totally going to change the world…There were codes that Ginika Knew, ways of being that she had mastered. Unlike Aunty Uju, Ginika had come to America with the flexibility of youth, the cultural cues had seeped into her skin…Teresa drank the fastest, rolling each empty can of beer on the wood floor, while others laughed with an enthusiasm that puzzled Ifemelu because it really was not that funny. How did they know when to laugh, what to laugh about?” page 152-153
Depending on where you live, you will wish that you could have copies of the novel to give to everyone who you come in contact with because, finally, they will get to understand what goes in your head.What you think, what you feel, what you experience, and a lot more.The book captures and articulates the essence of who you are so vividly that if only people could take the time to read it, they’d finally get it.
Have you ever read Americanah? Which chapter, excerpt or portion resonated with you and why? We would love to hear your thoughts on the novel. Please share your thoughts and comments.
Do you have a book that you would like to recommend or to see us talk about in future issues of African Vines® magazine? Please contact us here with your name, the title of the book and why you think that we should review it and we will get back to you. We will also mention that you recommended it should your suggestion be selected.