6 Things I Didn’t Like About Americanah


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.

23 thoughts on “6 Things I Didn’t Like About Americanah

  1. Pingback: Americanah: The Rave, The Rant, The Questions | naijawriter

  2. The negatives are also in other Adichie books, pointing to the lack of capacity for reinventing herself.
    Overall the reader has paid attention to the book.

  3. I hated most of the blog posts too. Skipped a good number.

    I didn’t think the characters were vague. I could totally picture them which in my opinion, like Chinua Achebe is one of Adichie’s strenghts; the ability to make the characters real. Idont know about you, but most times, when I read a book, I fit into one of the characters. I was Olanna in HOAYS and Ifemelu in Americanah. I never do this consciously, but it makes the book more fun for me. I never bother about deep descriptions of characters, once I fit in, I also fix people in my life into it. I don’t have an Obinze but I definitely have a Maryam abi Aisha(the hair stylist). I don’t know if I put it out here the way it is in my head. 🙂

  4. Wow, I read ur 6 things I like about Americanah and I can almost say this writeup wasnt written by you…lol! Just to tell u how easy it is to sense things that are not there for some reason. For example, I feel these criticisms u’ve made were written to impress. Almost like they are someone else’s opinions or seeking some approval.

    But we are not talking about ur comment, let’s talk about the book.
    I honestly did not notice the overuse of d nesses nd ilys. Maybe I was too drawn to the story that they skipped my notice. In my opinion they did not affect me.

    On the blog’s name- I LOVED it. A catchy name would just have been a bore. That title fit Ifemelu so well, her mind would have no patience to seek out a name that’s catchy, cool or whatever you’d have preferred. When I saw the name for the first time, it made me laugh out loud knowingly. It’s Ifemelu, what do you expect? Lol! However, I agree with u on the posts. I enjoyed reading some of them (esp the one on the hair) but some were unnecessarily long (pardon my -ly…lol).

    On the scorn in the narrator’s voice, I think it apt. Pray tell, isn’t that how a satire is supposed to feel? Methinks a writer doesn’t write to make you feel how you want to feel. He writes to pass a feeling across. If u felt that the writer saw dark and grey everywhere, I assure you Chimmy has succeeded.
    On the church issue, I have to agree with you. A fanatic must have offended Chimmy o! I’d be interested in hearing what she has against, not just the pentecostal church but the church at large. I’m not offended by this however, just pleasantly amused.
    The box checking…hmmm. I could bet that if u had to write a 100-paged article on the box-checking in Americanah, it would seem u were writing with an agenda refusing to let go ‘even though it is obviously….’. And as for the office girl, that sounds very much like Rachel in my office, and I am no smallie at my job.

    On the depth of the description of the characters, I agree with you. However, it will be ignorant to think this novel a love story or a romance. IMO, that Ifemelu and Obinze thing was just a distraction. That’s probably why Chimmy didnt dwell on those things. If this were a romance novel, this would have been a major flaw. Now that I think of it, when I think of Ifemelu, Chimamanda’s face comes to mind. I have no picture in my head of Ifemelu.
    On your 7th point in your 6-point list…lol!, this book easily is a success. I had no feeling that it even tried to be. It’s effortlessly a success. However, it evoked very strong feelings in readers, probably what you now define as it trying too hard.
    In all, interesting points on a great book. So, kudos to you, greater kudos to Chimmy.

  5. Interestingly, what I enjoy most about the book, made your list. I like that Obinze or Ifem are not fully described; I enjoy imagining what they would like in different scenes… Still reading, can’t put the book down.

  6. I am almost done with the book and I have to say, every single thing listed here is something that I enjoyed about the book. I loved the blog posts, they were probably one of the best addition to this book. They gave the reader a deeper understanding of Ifemelu’s mindset, and also told a LOT of truth. I understand where you’re coming from, but you listed many elements of Americanah as negative, when they actually made the book so much greater.

  7. I cannot agree on the 6 points you mentioned, though i vaguely agree to the feeling that one feels a high level of construction of the book (meaning that it was composed after a safe “how to write a novel” description.. btw i have this feeling often when reading contemporary american writers). Still I liked to read the book very much, because for me it is very interesting in way how many insights i can gain here from reading… i dont know if a man like obinze might exist btw, while i can lively imagine ifemelu as a real person

  8. You are not the only person that did not like this book. I can see why, based on other reviews I’ve seen, heard, or read. Every person is different. I am not sure that I will read it myself, but for those who enjoyed it- great! At least it sparked conversation!

  9. I just slogged thru all 588 pages and cannot believe I did not follow my gut and quit 200 pages in. It was tedious and trite and painful to the last ” Come in!” The only merit was the sporadic ( and sometimes profound) insights on race and the Ivy League. Still, she could have been communicated this in 1/4 the space. Finally, such tedium of detail only works in small doses aka a short story.

  10. I loved the other books but this one is a bit disappointing, she is very opinionated and her point of view may not tally with some others view. she also wasted pages writing some unnecessary things. the overall air of the book is judgmental and finally it seems that the book was trying too hard to reach a bench mark.

  11. Which Nigerian man leaves his wife and daughter to be with someone he loved a decade ago? Certainly, they are not that irresponsible! That may be a European thing, not African.

  12. I did find most of the blogs there unnecessary, some even annoying, another lot I don’t entirely get.
    But I consider it’s inclusion in this story’s narrative is creative, maybe not entirely novel, but different- that eclectic kind of different that just renders it beautiful…
    Long story short- Americanah is narrated through the nebulous passions of an ambivalent mind, and the only way I think possible in portraying this is doing it the way Chimamanda did.
    So, go easy on her.

    Although I did notice a number of box-checking she should have simply avoided, and the whole thing about Nigerian Pentecostal Churches is too, way too, one-sided, no matter how cloaked and mildly ecclesiastical the other side of it is. My advice to her- discover it (and annoy a lesser percentage of Nigerian church-goers).

    All in all, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brave, and discovering her when I did has proven, so far, the best thing that has happened to me as an aspiring Author who’s Nigerian.

  13. I reaally really liked the novel. It captured my attention from the very first sentence to the very last. Also inspired and motivated both my the attributes of ifemelu and the love obinze and ifemelu shared i was on the verge of breaking up with my boyfriend but then in real life there’s no such love ..sAdly

  14. You’re nitpicking. This is an incredible piece of literature. I didn’t notice the “ness” and the “ily” because the story itself was so captivating. But even if they were there who cares?? The blog posts were some of the best parts and they were an inventive way to shed light on real race problems in america without dumping them into unwieldy conversations between characters. Yes the narrators voice had scorn, that was the point…of the whole novel. Nothing in the world is sunshine and roses, in fact it can be rather bleak for a black immigrant living in America. Can’t disagree that the pentecostal church portrayals those are a cliché but that didn’t really detract from the book for me that much for me personally because I feel as though it wasn’t the point of the book it was just a feature. In terms of character description, I think it’s powerful that I can picture each and every character in my head simply by reading their thoughts and actions. I don’t need to know down to the centimeter how tall Obinze is. That’s irrelevant.

    Maybe Im an overzealous fangirl, but in my opinion Adichie is one of the greatest young influences on literature and black feminism in our generation, nitpicking her novels isn’t going to change that.

  15. Just finished the book and have not yet read but will read the things you liked about the book. For me all of the dislikes were spot on. I had no problem with the Pentecostal Church; the not so detailed description of Obinze or Ifemelu or the writing, I suppose that I was so entrenched with Ms. Adichie’s true capture of the American Black and White American. And, that love oftentimes hurts…

  16. Generally, I love the book. I did not notice the said ‘Ilys’ and ‘Nesses’. I believe such things become invisble to me when am reading.
    I do not hate Ifemelu’s blog, I dislike it. It’s kind of complex (for me), and boring. But nevertheless, I cherish the idea that Ifemelu opened a blog to let the world know her thoughts. It’s a blod move (not sassy).
    Description of characters should not be too much. It makes the book dry and the reader might skip some lines. I don’t need to know all the details about Ifemelu’s beauty or Obinze’s height before I can create them in my head. That’s the power of imagination.
    All in all, I love the book, but I go with you: the blog isn’t good enough.

  17. Americanah is one of my favourite books. I don’t think your points were very well thought out, but rather they seemed fetched and dug out. I did not even notice many “-nesses” or “ilys”, but to each his own?… I have to agree with Adichie on the description of Nigerian pentecostal churches. It is quite true to the actuality of churches in Nigeria, what with the theatrics and over dramatization (at least most of the ones I have attended).
    I do agree with you that the characters are very vaguely described, but I can respect the mysterious quality that that adds to the novel.
    The scornful tone of the narrator is a huge pro to the novel, because it drives the story – it’s the whole point. Ifemelu has relocated to America, been through depression and her eyes are now open! She can see the flaws in both the Nigerian and American systems. The narrator is trying to project this feeling, not allow you to have your own…
    The blog posts, I thought, were amazing and added to the novel, addressing the important social, economical and political aspects of life in America as a Non-American Black.
    Overall, this is an AMAZING novel and Adichie is truly a trailblazer for young black girls in this generation.
    – A young, non-American black female

  18. I feel these are flimsy faults to find within Americanah. What a boring world we would live in if authors created characters that had neutral opinions and safe thoughts. One of my favorite aspects of the book is Ifemelu’s honesty, but also her self-awareness of that honesty and how her personality gets her into trouble. It seems like you just wanted to have a different opinion from all the acclaim so you found small reasons to not like this book.

  19. I went looking for your blog as I had googled ‘stereotypes and Americanah’. The stereotypes are so annoying and obvious, so formulaic. I think it speaks more to her ability as a writer than anything else. She could have written about all of these characters and issues in a more subtle and profound way had she had the ability. I’m white with an interracial grandson and a domestically violent, from the islands, son-in-law. Nothing is quite as simplistic as what we read in Americanah.

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