6 Things I didn’t Like About Americanah
1. The Nesses And Ilys
This deserves a full post. However this list would be in complete without a mention. Words ending with -ness and -ly were all over the book like weeds. When I moaned about it a friend said they were typical of Ms Adichie’s books. This sent me looking for my copy of Half Of A Yellow Sun. There were hardly any of them seen. Was this an oversight of the editor? Does this mean we have better editors at Farafina than Knopf? More on this in a fresh post soon.
2. The Blog’s Name And Many Of It’s Posts
I don’t know if the name: Raceteenth Or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) By A Non-American Black, was meant to be humorous but it gave me instant nausea. If books do out live blogs I hate to imagine my grandchildren thinking we actually called our blogs such ugly names. ( Please emerging African writer, help! Redeem us!)
And then there is the issue of the blog posts. While it might be argued that they lent some credibility to the narrative, many of them sound fake. They also add bulk to the book. I think they ought to have been trimmed and re-edited. One post had a sentence that was 125 words long. Why???
3. The Scorn In The Narrators Voice.
The reviewers at the Wall Street Journal did a micro dissection of this, I’ll just say that it didn’t help the book much. It comes across as boring and self-obsessed. Everywhere the narrator looks she sees black and grey. Everywhere there is something to put someone down for. If it isn’t Brooklyn smelling of sun warmed garbage, it is Michelle Obama being made clamped flattened and tepidly wholesome. An unpleasant world view to say the least.
4. The Cliched Portrayal Of The Pentecostal Nigerian Church.
I have read Ms Adichie’s work, Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck , Half Of A Yellow Sun and even some little known shorts like Time Story and Crazy African Woman. One thing that puzzles me is her persistent stereotype of pentecostal Christianity. It seems she can’t write without devoting a row of boxes to be checked on that issue alone. And always it is the same stories, the same characters, the same cliched portrayal of a one-sided narrative. Pleeeease.
5. The Box Checking.
It might be one of the only subtle thing about this bold book, but the box checking in Americanah is alive and well. On it’s own that would not be a bad thing; it would just serve to broaden the discourse. It becomes worrisome when no scene exists merely to drive the plot or show character but also to check a box. It made me read each scene with a smirk knowing there would be something shoved in for extra depth. Some scenes ended up feeling fake because of this. Who gives lectures to a total stranger about the magnanimity of oil companies? Which office girl dares tell a superior she has a husband resisting spirit? The effects of box checking, writing with an agenda and refusing to let go even when it is obvious that it is uncalled for.
6. The Vague Description Of The Characters.
This is another thing that has drifted over from HOAYS. In HOAYS we are told thepat Kainene is ugly and Olanna beautiful but we have no idea how or why. In Americanah we meet Obinze and Ifemelu but we can’t describe them to save our lunch. Obinze is short. How short? Not short enough to consider the name Ceiling derogatory but then how short is that? Ifemelu is slim, dark, pretty and has a generous bosom. Pretty how? what are her best facial features? We don’t know and we wonder why this wasn’t well developed.
7. The Sense Of The Book Trying Too Hard.
A combination of box checking, a scornful narrator and a thousand -nesses and many ilys give a sense that the writer was trying too hard. It feels like she was forcing greatnesses into the work. It reminds me of David looking ill-dressed in Saul’s armour. It seems like a cook that wants more than anything for his the food to taste good but ends up with an over-spiced dish that burns the palate. One wonders if the book wouldn’t have fared better with a lighter touch in some places. That said Americanah is out and selling. As every businessman knows production should precede perfection. Who knows maybe there will be a new edition. One weeded of -nesses and -ilys and devoid of forced dialogue.