Author: Chimamanda Nogzi Adichie, Nigerian writer
Reviewed by: José A. Flores Velasco, consul of Argentina in Atlanta
Most literature I come across deals with ethnicity and race from the labels used for the census here in the U.S. But as an Argentinean, I had always tried to grasp what being “Latino” or “Hispanic” is supposed to mean. (See note)
When I read that this book’s main character, Ifemelu, was a female Nigerian student in the U.S. observing the experience of blacks in this country, I was immediately drawn to it. It seemed like a crack in the wall, a challenge to the single narrative the world tells for us based on our race.
The book touches on much more than ethnicity and identity, but also intensely on the complexity of human interactions, which are influenced by wealth and tradition as much as genetics. It deals with our preconceptions and the lopsided nature of our global society at times: some have to scrape by while the “well-connected” enjoy advantages that make life easier. You often forget that this novel is a love story because it covers so much sociological ground. With stereotypes peppered so liberally throughout the story, the reader sees just how hard they are to challenge in society.
One example really stuck out to me. Ifemelu is called upon to give a sponsored corporate talk on race relations. Rather than challenging the status quo, she reassures employees that they’re doing well. This reminded me that we need balance while addressing such sensitive topics. Labels (African, Black, Hispanic, White) provide comfort to many, and it’s important to push forward questions about their meaning without rendering communication impossible.
“Americanah” reminded me to always try to avoid the tunnel vision of racial labels. If we invite others into our experience instead of closing them out, we will all be wealthier for it.
Note: “Latin American” rings closer to home to most of us, as it is more of a geographic term rather then a blurry all-encompassing category.