March 30, 2016

Americanah

One of the things I miss most about my childhood is my hair. I haven’t lost it yet—my hairline is, however, rapidly receding—but my hair has lost its jump and curl as I’ve gotten older. Now, my hair is wavy and mostly flat; in second grade, the top of my head sported a natural quasi-Jheri curl, almost as if I had forgotten to apply activator that morning but my hair was still cooperating and knew how to fall into place to complete the look.

My hairstyle was unlike most people my age, but I loved it, embraced it quickly. On days when I felt bad about myself, I would occasionally try to straighten my hair with gel or mousse, but undoubtedly, by mid-morning, the curls would re-appear and I would surreptitiously smile, knowing that my locks could not be tamed.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, to me, is a story about accepting one’s hair, both in the literal and the metaphorical sense, and because of that, I was smitten with the novel.

Some of the most compelling parts of Americanah take place in a hair salon, or during conversations that center on the things we do to tame and change our natural hair. The novel is about the process of change and transformation, and how hard it is to return to the way things were, to the natural state. Americanah is about accepting our natural hair, accepting the norms and ways of our homeland, and about accepting the truth about our capacity to love—all after spending years forcing ourselves to reject that truth, that natural state.

Ms. Adichie’s writing is impressive and incisive, and while the novel felt like it could have used a tighter edit—the ending, in particular, felt like it dragged on for a few pages to many—the book demonstrates a prowess with the written word that can combine humor and tragedy in a few short sentences.

There were many times, reading the novel, when I reached up and touched my hair and tried to remember what it was like years ago. Americanah is that kind of novel: full of nostalgia and longing, but astutely aware that the past is something to be accepted, and not necessarily to be relived.


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