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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Maggio 2019
È tra le voci più potenti della letteratura africana post-coloniale in lingua inglese. Narrando la costruzione dell’identità della protagonista, l’autrice ci fa riflettere su temi nodali quali razza, genere, potere e immigrazione.

di Sarah Presant Collins

File audio:

Speakers: Alex Warner (British accent) and Molly Malcolm (American accent)

In her third novel, the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche tells the story of Ifemelu, a young woman who leaves Nigeria to make a new life in the US, and of Ifemelu’s boyfriend Obinze, who heads for London, having been denied a US visa. The author herself moved to the States at the age of nineteen, to enroll in university. The novel, about leaving and loneliness, class and race, is informed by her own experiences. Americanah records the desperate and depressing start Ifemelu and Obinze face as young immigrants: struggling to get work; struggling to fit in; struggling to hold on to their identities. Fifteen years later they find themselves together again in Nigeria, rebuilding their relationship and trying to adjust to their newly democratic homeland.


Americanah’s main character, Ifemelu, decides to leave her university studies in Nigeria, where the teachers are always on strike because of the military dictatorship, and go to join her Aunty Uju who is training to be a doctor in the US. As Ifemelu packs her bags to leave, her classmates are envious of her new life:
[ENG] “‘Ifem, you know you’ll have any kind of dress you want in America and next time we see you, you will be a serious Americanah.’
Her mother said Jesus told her in a dream that Ifemelu would prosper in America, her father pressed a slender envelope into her hand, saying, “I wish I had more,’ and she realized, with sadness, that he must have borrowed it.”

[ITA] “– Ifem, lo sai che in America potrai avere tutti i vestiti che vuoi e la prossima volta che ci vediamo sarai un’autentica americanah.
La madre disse che Gesù le aveva rivelato in sogno che Ifemelu avrebbe fatto fortuna in America, il padre le mise in mano una busta smilza dicendo: – Vorrei potertene dare di più,- e lei si rese conto, con tristezza, che doveva aver chiesto un prestito”.

But the dream that everything will be easier in America is shattered when she finds her aunt working three jobs just to pay the bills while finishing her studies and caring for her young son alone. Ifemelu hadn’t expected to be sleeping on her aunt’s floor in “glorious America.”
After months of being rejected for jobs and sinking into poverty and depression, Ifemelu finally gets a job as babysitter to a wealthy, white family and is soon in a relationship with her employer’s cousin.


Hair plays an important symbolic role in the book. When aunt Uju has a job interview, she changes her hairstyle; she takes out the braids she usually wears and goes through the painful process of straightening her hair. Ifemelu is shocked and thinks her aunt is losing part of her identity. But her aunt warns:

[ENG] “I have told you what they told me. You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed.”

[ITA] “– Ti dico quello che mi è stato detto. Sei in un paese che non è il tuo. Se vuoi ottenere qualcosa devi fare quello che occorre”.

Later Ifemelu finds herself straightening her own hair for an important job interview. It is only when she is more socially and financially secure in America that she dares to leave her hair in a natural afro.
Accent too becomes a symbol of identity. Over time, Ifemelu learns to fake an American accent that sounds so natural she is complimented on it. But then she asks herself:

[ENG] “Only after she hung up did she begin to feel the stain of burgeoning shame spreading all over her, for thanking him, for crafting his word ‘You sound American’ into a garland that she hung around her own neck. Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American?”

[ITA] “Solo dopo aver riattaccato iniziò a sentire la macchia di una vergogna crescente che le si diffondeva addosso, vergogna per averlo ringraziato, per avere fatto delle sue parole «sembra americana» una ghirlanda da mettersi attorno al collo. Perché mai avrebbe dovuto essere un complimento, un risultato ottenuto, il fatto di sembrare americana?”

She realises that changing her accent has changed her persona, that she has “taken on, for too long, a pitch of voice that was not hers” and so she decides to go back to her Nigerian accent, even if that means that many Americans treat her with less respect.


When she is established in the US, Ifemelu starts a blog where she records her observations about race from the perspective of a non-American black person. She is always looking out for curious incidents, culture clashes and misunderstandings. The book is full of details like this that bring the story alive with warmth and humour. For example, she notices that:

[ENG] “The kids at my high school called me Pork. You know at home when somebody tells you that you lost weight, it means something bad. But here somebody tells you that you lost weight and you say thank you. It’s just different here.”

[ITA] “E pensare che alle superiori i ragazzi mi chiamavano Porchetta. Come ben sai, se a casa qualcuno ti dice che sei dimagrita, non fa un bell’effetto. Ma qui, se qualcuno ti dice che hai perso peso, lo ringrazi. Qui tutto è diverso [...]”.


Adiche herself has been called one of the most influential women in Africa. The Times Literary Supplement called her the most prominent of a group of “critically acclaimed young anglophone authors … succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature,” while her 2013 TED talk We Should All be Feminists has had over two million views and was later published as a book. Adiche has written two other successful novels set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was adapted into a film. In February, it was announced that a new TV miniseries adaptation of Americanah was going into production. According to reports, it will feature34 Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, stars of the Oscar-winning movie Black Panther.   

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