Welcome to the first discussion of our blog series on the book Americanah. Each week, I’ll give a recap (the gist and jist) of the chapters we’re discussing. (Nigerians use jist to mean talk/gossip, hence these are summaries with maybe a little bit of back talk) 🙂
Ifemelu is a Nigerian-born woman living in the US. When we first meet her, she’s on her way from Princeton to Trenton to get her hair braided. Since there are no black hair salons in Princeton where she lives, she’s got to go where the “black people at” in Trenton.
In the course of this trip and at the hair salon, we begin to discover her back story….
She’s a people watcher… making observations about other passengers on the train… We find out she used to run a blog (fancy that) on race in America called Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. Awkward title you think? She’s ended the blog, ended a “not bad” relationship with an “American Black” professor and she’s decided to move back to Nigeria! We also find out that she has an ex-boyfriend, Obinze, back in Nigeria, who it appears is still quite heavy on her heart.
Lest we think the story is all about Ifemelu, Chapter 2 switches to Obinze’s narrative and we meet the heart throb himself in his own words. He is rich o! A businessman and married (the heart sinks) to an eye candy of a woman, Kosi, who is poised, well spoken, beautiful, sophisticated (heart sinks more). But wait all may not be well in the palace. Obinze got an email from Ifemelu that she’s moving back to Nigeria and a whole lot of reminiscing takes place. Clearly, “Ceiling,” Ifemelu’s nickname for him, is not all that grounded in his current life. This is a love story! Obinze is obviously not happy in the marriage; Kosi is more invested in the “life” and image they have, to the point that we see that her beauty is merely skin deep given the account of how she treated a house girl (maid) who came to work for them. All’s not well indeed and love is knocking on Obinze’s door….
Meanwhile, back at the hair salon, Ifemelu’s travel to where the Black people are doesn’t make her feel all that at home either… she chooses dry granola bar over an offer of Chinese food (rice… just sayin’…). Aisha, her hair braider who is in love with an Igbo guy (Ifemelu is Igbo) wants Ifemelu to convince him to marry her since the chap’s excuse is their “tribal” difference.
At the salon, Ifemelu flashes back to her childhood in Nigeria and we are introduced to her mother who, in the face of social/economic hardship in the country turned into a “wild Christian” (Wole Soyinka might have described it) fasting to starvation, speaking to angels while wide awake, going from church to church, and adopting a faith to wealth ideology that gives hope to the hopeless but much more materially to the haves (at least this is how Adichie depicts it. We can argue about this later). Her father, on the other hand seems to have been emasculated by a permanent state of joblessness when he refused to call his female boss “Mummy” (British variation of mommy/mother). We also meet Aunty Uju, Ifemelu’s favorite aunt whose way out of the national dysfunction is to join the ranks as the mistress of a General, thereby gaining financial security. Ifemelu’s mother, under her religious delusion, sees the general as a “mentor” and a blessing from God. Hmmmmm……..
Where do we begin? So much already in three chapters! What passages or scenes from the chapters 1-3 did you find interesting?