Things I Learned from Americanah

When I first picked up Chimamanda Adiche’s novelĀ Americanah, I didn’t think I would like it. It’s long. It’s kind of heavy. And I wasn’t all that enticed by the summary on the back cover. But a professor of mine recommended it, so I picked it up.

I was hooked on the first page. And I learned a couple important lessons that are pushing my own writing to another level.

First, Adiche starts talking about race on the first page. The main character’s blog is titled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” She’s explicit on her thoughts about race throughout the novel. There’s no need for political correctness. No thought for offending readers. The protagonist is simply sharing her experience, as it relates to race. This takes boldness and courage–something I’d been searching for as I work on my book.

Second, characters have to make mistakes. Ifemelu, the protagonist, makes a huge mistake that sets her life on a completely different track after she arrives in America. I knew the mistake was coming. I could sense it. But at the same time, I have a hard time letting my characters make mistakes. I think I love them like a reader instead of live a writer, sometimes. ButĀ Americanah taught me that mistakes are crucial not only to keep readers interested but also for character growth. Mistakes are how we grow in real life so why would I think my characters would be any different?

This is definitely a book I’m going to have to read more than once. It’s so rich, so full of intelligent craft and a gripping, raw story.

What are you reading?