Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "Americanah"


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A transcript from a program that I listened to yesterday. The show is hosted by the Guyanese journalist Kojo Namdi. The full transcript can be found here.

Transcript for: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "Americanah"
From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We know that race is a complicated, sensitive and nuanced issue, but the writer who has warned of the danger of a single story might also argue it can also be funny.
There is certainly humor in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's latest novel "Americanah," a story that unfolds across three continents in several decades raising questions about identity everywhere it goes. Here to talk us through some of those questions is the author herself, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning author and MacArthur fellow whose novels include "Half A Yellow Sun" and "Purple Hibiscus." Her latest work is titled "Americanah." Chimamanda, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you.
You too can join this conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850 if you have read "Americanah" or earlier works and have questions for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, give us a call. 800-433-8850, you can send email to or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
"Americanah" is a story about many things, love, race, the cultural norms and morals of three countries and here among them. Let's start, though, with immigration. The notion of immigrant is poor refugee is challenged in this story. Instead, who are the characters leaving Nigeria and why are they leaving?
So they, the sort of middle-class Nigerians who are leaving because they want more traces and I think the reason it's interesting for me, in particular, is that when it comes to Africa, in particular, I think we've come to expect that immigrants from the continent of Africa are destitute, they're fleeing terrible poverty or war.
And while that story's true and I think important, it's not the story I know. The story I know, which in many ways is my story and the story of my friends, my family, is the story of Nigerians who were not fleeing poverty. Who had relatively had some choices in Nigeria, but who wanted more.
I mean, the idea that over there -- over there, of course meaning overseas, meant that you could do more, you could, you know, the palette of choices was larger. So that's what I think these characters are looking for.
Well, let me tell you what a difference a generation can make. When I arrived in this country in 1967, this was even before the Biafra War had started, most of the Nigerian immigrants I met, most of the African immigrants I met, were the type you described.
People who were middle-class who were coming over here for their education. In the generation since then, because of wars and refugees there has been such a large number of immigrants coming from Africa who fit into that category that the perception has changed completely from the African immigrant being the most educated middle-class immigrants who were coming to the image that you refer to in the book of refugees coming here so fascinating for me.
In many countries, there's a prevailing notion that education is your ticket to success and stability, but in the Nigeria that you write about, that is not necessarily the case. What in your experience does foster opportunity there?
I think education does, can. I think that, but it's not just Nigeria. I think its education, but also often its access. It's, you know, there are people who are educated in Nigeria can't find jobs because they don't know the right people, which I don't think is a problem that's limited to Nigeria. I think Americans can identify with that as well.
Exactly right. Ifemelu and Obinze, your main characters, not only leave Nigeria for reasons that readers might not expect, they, for different reasons, return. Have you found that Americans often consider immigration to this country a one-way move, a single story?
Yes, yes. And I remember when I came to the U.S. to go to university and I remember people sounding very surprised when I said I planned to go back to Nigeria after I graduated because they just couldn't understand it. I mean, you're in the perfect golden land of America and you want to go back?
I think what's happened, I mean, unlike my character who was in the U.S. for 13 years before she moved back, I went back to Nigeria after four years so it wasn't that bad.
But I think what's happening now is that there's a growing movement of people moving back from the U.S., from Europe and moving back to the continent of Africa and I think part of it started with the credit crunch.
And I think what meant was that suddenly opportunities were even more limited in the U.S. and in Europe and many people thought, you know, maybe we can more money if we go back to Nigeria with our fancy new degrees. So there really is a movement and I try to capture that in the novel, of people moving back and trying to do new things.
And I think that what it does is that there's a new dynamism in Nigeria because of that in addition to also new resentments.