We all know we can’t go home again. The problem is that we just keep on changing, until home is a place in our head no one else would recognize. At the same time, home is not a static place. Home changes on us, shifting and developing, until when we get home we realize nothing but our own loneliness.
For the immigrant, home is an even bigger and stranger thing that for the rest of us. “Home” is “back home,” a country whose name almost no one else may recognize, news of which is coveted or–given the nature of politics–scorned, but always hoarded. The native language, whether it’s an English dialect or Igbo, becomes a thing spoken only at certain times with certain people; rather than a language of life, it becomes a language contained to a small community.
When people leave home, they have experiences like the ones in “Americanah.” They learn things, about others, about the world, about themselves. They find themselves in the strange perspective of both belonging in a place like America, a “nation of immigrants,” and knowing they’ll never exactly stop being the outsider.
The protagonist of “Americanah,” Ifemelu, is both an American and a Nigerian, a formidable intellectual and a sometimes spineless people pleaser. She makes a home for herself, but no home she makes ever feels like the home she left behind, her first love, a man names Obinze.
So she tries to go home again. She moves back to Lagos. And the book ponders the question of what leaving home means, what remembering home means, and whether it’s possible to go back.
It’s a strange book for an American to read, as our culture is affectionately poked and prodded, our world presence revealed as far more complicated and important than we could possibly know from here. It’s a window to another world, and it’s as good a one as ever there was.
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