I first read Americanah in my first year of university. This was during a time of social and financial difficulties. Americanah came when I most need it.
I saw in the story of the main character, Ifemelu, my very own journey. It’s true, she had to endure a lot, nothing compared to my small challenges of life in becoming an adult and leaving home; but, nonetheless, I could see myself. The most powerful message was that I, for the very first time, was witnessing someone that looked like me as the main character of a book. I was witnessing for the first time an African woman as the main character of a novel, with her multifaceted being, her sexuality, her struggle and victories as an immigrant in the American land. I was finally coming to the realisation that who I am is valid, in every shape and form. I became Ifemelu, and her struggles of separation from the love of her life – Obinze, the unbearable distance between America and Nigeria and the challenges of being young, African and depressed became my very own, thus her achievements mine. Seeing Ifemelu use her voice to go beyond her difficulties – i.e. by way of a blog she created, made me believe I could overcome what I was going through; she gave me the tools to own the solutions to my challenges: becoming a woman with multiple identities that did not fit what was deemed regular.
Through the genius of Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, I understood that politics is not off limits for women who look like me, and that our voice matters everywhere; we need to be loud and we will be heard. Americanah showed me the unseen and told me the unsaid things about being a person first, and then an African. It spoke about the African woman and man from a non-physical perspective.
Growing up in an African household, I always thought we are not meant to express emotions, especially those that do not supposedly align with our Africa-ness. The difficulties that arose when I started university dragged me in a place I now know as depression. The strength to recognise and name how I feel was the greatest gift Americanah gave me.
“We’re late already, get dressed,” Ginika said, firmly, authoritatively, with no room for dissent. Ifemelu pulled on a pair of jeans. She felt Ginika watching her. In the car, Ginika’s rock music filled the silence between them. They were on Lancaster Avenue, just about to cross over from West Philadelphia, with boarded-up buildings and hamburger wrappers strewn around, and into the spotless, tree-filled suburbs of the Main Line, when Ginika said, “I think you’re suffering from depression.” Ifemelu shook her head and turned to the window. Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness.
But we have emotions: we love, we feel, we suffer, we fall into depression, and we can overcome because it is not always the spirits, but part of the human nature.
For the first time in my life, I felt validated to be exactly who I was – African, Italian and struggling, and to confront the limits of my personhood without denying myself help from others.
I started writing and blogging after I read Americanah, and in my pieces I would share who I was without shame and fear of being judged. I understood I could be a full person without shrinking and limiting myself in order to fit someone else’s idea of who I ought to be. I became the Ifemelu that found her voice after leaving the life she built with her lover Blaine, a relationship that looked like “[…] being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.”
I know in the deepest part of my heart that Ifemelu inspired me in order for me to overcome my barriers and inspire others to find themselves.
Americanah is the story of the modern African in transit, the story of me.