"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
"Once, she asked Dike what he had done in school before summer, and he said, 'Circles.' They would sit on the floor in a circle and share their favorite things.
"She was appalled. 'Can you do division?'
"He looked at her strangely. 'I'm only in first grade, Coz.'
"'When I was your age I could do simple division.'
"The conviction lodged in her head, that American children learned nothing in elementary school, and it hardened when he told her that his teacher sometimes gave out homework coupons; if you got a homework coupon, then you could skip one day of homework. Circles, homework coupons, what foolishness would she next hear?"
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie divides her time between the US and her native Nigeria. Americanah is her third and most recent novel.
Ifemelu and Obinze, students in Lagos, seek to realize personal goals by moving out of Nigeria. Ifemelu moves to the United States, where after months of privation she finds success as a blogger. Obinze moves to the U.K. and is eventually deported, but later begins a lucrative career in real estate after he moves back to his home country. Ifemelu and Obinze's paths cross many times in the book, and Ifemelu's return to Nigeria and reentry into Obinze's life are described in the last few chapters.
I think this book has a lot to say about both culture and race, and also how the two inform our lives. I say this as someone who's still very tired of the endless (American) dialogue on race and "atonement for past sins," and also as someone who was a bit skeptical of this novel from the beginning. Americanah deftly balances race against class, rich against poor, and the Third World against the First. The characters are believable, their choices make perfect sense, and the dilemmas in which they find themselves are both interesting and realistic.
My only complaint is the "blogger" portions. I suppose that at the time it seemed like a very modern thing to do, but in retrospect Ifemelu's obsession with her blog seems a little silly. The excerpts from this blog also take the reader right out of the story, and the content of these excerpts would have been better demonstrated through her interactions with other characters, rather than described long after the fact.
Despite this minor flaw, Americanah is a good book, and worth reading. It also brought to mind many of my own experiences, living as a Western person in a non-Western country.