• a.k. payne

on finally finishing Adichie’s Americanah & on falling in love with yaself

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

you feel cheated by the ending of Americanah because who ever gets happily ever after? certainly not black girls standing on the edge of forever. so, this feels like a mistake: Obinze standing in the doorway with urgent eyes, saying: “I’m chasing you. I’m going to chase you until you give this a chance.” you think this is a dream. Adichie is a genius this way, the subtle nuance of her prose weaving delicately up and through and around your subconscious. you do not realize you are on the brink of tears until you are crying. it is the intense interiority, the people you know so well that pierces most. you can predict them pages before. Ifemelu says surprising, sudden things but they fall in line, are entirely and completely explainable. Adichie is a genius at building worlds.


you got two copies of this book when you graduated from high school and your whole body was shaking with the fear of what comes next. who would blossom up out of the years to come; what new voice would overpower your own. the tasteless white icing on your graduation cake betrayed something more than the monotony of sugar, it predicted, in its own gaudiness, your coming demise, the layer of gold your institution would stack upon your soul like thick immovable weights. you would struggle to become independent of this tastelessness. you would struggle to taste like yourself…you hand one copy of this book to this boy you think you love and he promises to read it. you hold the other to yourself and you promise to read it too. it has been three years since you graduated from high school and only now have you managed to pick up and finish a book laced in the girl you once were.

you feel cheated by the ending of Americanah and so you send him an email full of hidden things. you do not say: ‘you remind me of obinze.’ you do not say: ‘did you ever read the book?’ you do not say, ‘wasn’t the ending just ridiculous, who ever gets happily ever after?’ you say, ‘i hope you are well.’ you say, ‘you crossed my mind.’ you say ‘nothing more nothing less, sending you the best,’ and your fingers shake as you press send. he calls and what strikes you most is how his voice no longer makes you nervous. you speak like friends who have known each other over airwaves and loved each other in other lives. like friends dancing around the things that should have been said before. laughter comes natural. an old nostalgic thing. you do not ask about the book. realize it would signal something more than you care to betray. he is no Obinze. you are no Ifemelu. this is no fairy tale. the toxic entrails of those bygone days live only in nostalgia, their bitter insides draw up memories you wish you could forget. the black girl holding two copies of Americanah in her graduation cap has survived the layers of gold but was not left unscathed; she has found a way to remake herself into a self that can no longer live in this world of lost things. you hang up feeling whole.


the radical thing about this novel is the fact that its ending is no dream. is that the black girl gets her happily ever after. is that even after losing and finding her tongue again, even after the world poured itself again and again and again over the selves they left across the atlantic and that seemingly wide chasm isolating some falsely superior “West”—even after the storm and the bloody undersides of some misplaced love, [even after the gunshot and the copknee and the whip, the FBI files and the missionary tongue… ] even after pain beyond repair and the gritty mess of being perpetually other, in this novel, there exists forever.



you feel cheated by the ending of Americanah and you realize hours later that it is because you have never believed this kind of romance possible for yourself.  it is an elusive dream. you are always the one loving with more fullness than the other, giving too much of yourself, spinning half notes into prayers for them in blurry visions intended for yourself. you have never known the kind of matched love with which they speak but—and this is the genius of Adichie—maybe there is a happily ever after in this world where we watch rewatch our own perpetual deaths. maybe there is still love there underneath some rock, waiting to be uncovered.