Forget Foreign Opportunities, Home is Where the Heart Is

Most readers expect stories involving immigrants to center around their struggles in their new country. It’s archetypal for authors to build a heartwarming story off the backs of foreigner protagonists who attempt to speak a new language and balance three jobs while still squeezing in time for love. Upon first glance, the blurb of Americanah makes it seem as though this will tell the tale of two lovers who part ways when emigrating from Nigeria to other parts of the world. Adichie’s novel steers readers into a different direction by introducing Ifemelu as a fluent English speaker, 13 year resident of the U.S., and a girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend as she plans on returning to her home country.

When observing Americanah through a postcolonial lens, the novel takes an unconventional twist in the way the protagonist is presented: Ifemelu has left postcolonial Nigeria for ex-imperializing powerhouse America. She represents the diffusion of two cultures as she finishes her fellowship at Princeton and avoids taboo American words like “fat,” while getting her hair braided at African salons every few months. Despite deciding to move back to Nigeria, it’s apparent that other African immigrants–more specifically, Aisha–disapprove of her decision without any plausible reason, i.e. marriage. Aisha’s distaste for life in African homeland epitomizes the stereotypical immigrant, one who leaves their past life to settle into a newer, more opportune country. Ifemelu defies immigrant expectations by coming to a new country to create a new and successful life for herself up before returning to her home country.

Similarly, Obinze leaves Nigeria for Britain and comes back with a high-class education. He uses his knowledge and agreeable attitude to climb up the social ladder and becomes a rich man. Despite the growing capitalism-based society in Nigeria–thanks to British imperialism–Obinze knows that the large house and beautiful wife does not complete his life. He longs for something more in life, past all of the material wealth and superficial people: Ifemelu.