Ifemelu, the protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, is certainly a favorite among lovers of contemporary African literature. In the course of the novel, Ifemelu has three love interests: Obinze, her high school sweetheart and first love; Curt, a wealthy, leisurely White-American that she meets through her babysitting job; and Blaine, a Black-American academic that she meets through her “Raceteenth” blog.
While Americanah is not strictly a romance novel, Adichie illustrates the core themes of race, immigration, class, and feminism through Ifemelu’s relationships. In doing so, she weaves romance into the plot in a way that makes Ifemelu feel so real to Americanah readers.
As Ifemelu falls in and out of love, Adichie captures every detail beautifully. While each relationship brings a unique set of challenges to Ifemelu and her partner, they all possess moments of beauty that we may recognize in our own lives.
To celebrate the month of love, we have selected fourteen quotes that pay homage to the good times that move us, the difficult times that grow us, and the memories that stay with us.
She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease: her skin felt as though it was her right size. She told him how she very much wanted God to exist but feared He did not, how she worried that she should know what she wanted to do with her life but did not even know what she wanted to study at university. It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her.
2. She liked that [Obinze] wore their relationship so boldly, like a brightly colored shirt. Sometimes she worried that she was too happy. She would sink into moodiness, and snap at Obinze, or be distant. And her joy would become a restless thing, flapping its wings inside her, as though looking for an opening to fly away”
“For the first time, Ifemelu felt older than Aunty Uju, wiser and strong than Aunty Uju, and she wished that she could wrest Aunty Uju away, shake her into a clear-eyed self, who would not lay her hopes on The General, slaving and shaving for him, always eager to fade his flaws. It was not as it should be” (100).
At first, she gave herself a month. A month to let her self-loathing seep away, then she would call Obinze. But a month passed and still she kept Obinze sealed in silence, gagged her own mind so that she would think of him as little as possible. She still deleted his e-mails unread. Many times she started to write to him, she crafted e-mails, and then stopped and discarded them. She would have to tell him what happened, and she could not bear the thought of telling him what happened. She felt shamed; she had failed.
With Curt, she became, in her mind, a woman free of knots and cares, a woman running in the rain with the taste of sun-warmed strawberries in her mouth.
His horror made her more concerned than she would ordinarily have been. She had never felt so close to him as she did then, sitting still on the bed, her face sunk in his shirt, the scent of fabric softener in her nose, while he gently parted her newly straightened hair.
Curt touched Ifemelu’s shoulder gently, asked if she was okay, before going back outside. ‘O na-eji gi ka akwa,” Aunty Uju said, her tone charged with admiration. Ifemelu smiled. Curt did indeed hold her like an egg. With him, she felt breakable, precious. Later, as they left, she slipped her hand into his and squeezed; she felt proud– to be with him, and of him.
It was true, she had cheated on Curt with a younger man who lived in her apartment building in Charles Village and played in a band. But it was also true that she had longed, with Curt, to hold emotions in her hand that she never could. She had not entirely believed herself while with him– happy, handsome Curt, with his ability to twist life into the shapes he wanted. She loved him, and the spirited easy life he gave her, and yet she often fought the urge to create rough edges, to squash his sunniness, even if just a little.
It was as if because of their train meetings years ago, they could bypass several steps, ignore several unknowns, and slide into an immediate intimacy. After [Blaine’s] first visit, she went back to New Haven with him. There were weeks that winter, cold and sunny weeks, when New Haven seemed lit from within, frosted snow clinging on shrubs, a festive quality to a world that seemed inhabited fully only by her and Blaine.
She felt withered in his wordless rage. How could principle, an abstract thing floating in the air, wedge itself so solidly between, and turn Blaine into somebody else? She wished it were an uncivil emotion, a passion like jealousy or betrayal.
She still admired [Blaine], his moral fiber, his life of clean lines, but now it was admiration for a person separate from her, a person far away. And her body had changed. In bed, she did not turn to him full of a raw wanting as she used to do, and when he reached for her, her first instinct was to roll away. They kissed often, but always with her lips firmly pursed; she did not want his tongue in her mouth. They union was leached of passion, but there was a new passion, outside of themselves, that united them in an intimacy they had never had before, an unfixed, unspoken, intuitive intimacy: Barack Obama. They agreed, without any prodding, without the shadows of obligation or compromise, on Barack Obama.
Finally, he said, ‘I can’t imagine how bad you must have felt, and how alone. You should have told me. I so wish you had told me.’ She heard his words like a melody and she felt herself breathing unevenly, gulping at the air. She would not cry, it was ridiculous to cry after so long, but her eyes were filling with tears and there was a boulder in her chest and a stinging in her throat. The tears felt itchy. She made no sound. He took her hand in his, both clasped on the table, and between them silence grew, an ancient silence that they both knew. She was inside this silence and she was safe.
She was at the hair salon when he sent her a text: I’m sorry Ifem but I think I should probably go alone to Abuja. I need some time to think things through. I love you. She stared at the text and, fingers shaking, she wrote him back a two-word text: Fucking coward.
He paused, shifted. ‘Ifem, I’m chasing you. I’m going to chase you until you give this a chance.’ For a long time she stared at him. He was saying what she wanted to hear and yet she stared at him. ‘Ceiling,’ she said, finally. ‘Come in.’
Post image by William Stitt via Upsplash