Ifemelu is a young woman from Nigeria living in the United States. The novel begins as she takes the train from Princeton, New Jersey, the posh university town where she has a fellowship as a writer, to Trenton, New Jersey, a nearby city that is much poorer, to get braids done before returning to Nigeria. As she sits in the salon, she reminisces and recounts pieces of her life in Nigeria as a child; her struggles with culture, language, money, and hair in the United States; and two relationships since emigrating that could never measure up to her first love with a young man named Obinze.
The story is told mainly through Ifemelu's thoughtful, critical narration and sometimes through posts from her blog “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black,” but the narration switches to Obinze's point of view for portions of the story to describe the difficulties he faced as an illegal worker in London and his quick rise to wealth upon returning to Nigeria.
When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria after some delay due to a suicide attempt made by her beloved cousin Dike, she and Obinze must decide where their friendship and love stand. Though Obinze faces a tough decision due to having a wife and young daughter, in the end he chooses to pursue a relationship with Ifemelu no matter the cost.
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 56-page guide for “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 55 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Belonging/Alienation and America vs. Nigeria.
Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who has lived in the US for thirteen years, goes to a hair braiding salon in Trenton, New Jersey to have her hair braided in preparation for her return to Nigeria. The narrative flashes back and forth between her afternoon in the braiding salon, her childhood and adolescence in Nigeria, and her adult years in America.
Ifemelu grows up in Lagos, Nigeria with a religious mother and a patient, occasionally unemployed father. Her closest confidante is Aunty Uju, her father’s younger sister. In secondary school, Ifemelu meets Obinze, a kind, handsome boy with whom she quickly falls in love. They spend all their time together and know that their love is meant to be. Meanwhile, Aunty Uju pursues a relationship with a married general, who gives her a son, Dike, before dying under suspicious circumstances. Uju is threatened by The General’s surviving relatives and so flees to America with her son. Ifemelu and Obinze attend the same university, but constant teacher strikes and general instability cause Ifemelu to leave for America to study. She lives with Uju in Brooklyn, then in Philadelphia, slowly adapting to American culture. During a grueling job search, she is sexually exploited by a prospective employer. Though she and Obinze have been in constant contact, she now cuts him off completely, ashamed to tell him what has happened to her. She finds work as a nanny and begins a relationship with the cousin of her employer, a wealthy young white man named Curt. She and Curt date for a time, but she is frustrated by his inability to understand her racial struggles and cheats on him. They break up.
Meanwhile, Obinze moves to London and works illegally, as his visa has expired. He attempts to arrange a sham marriage and gain citizenship, but is caught just before his wedding and deported to Nigeria, where he becomes the employee of a rich man called Chief, who manages to make Obinze very wealthy, as well. Obinze meets and marries a dutiful woman named Kosi, who gives him a daughter. Yet, he constantly thinks of Ifemelu.
In America, bored with her public relations job, Ifemelu quits and starts a blog devoted to race in America, explaining her unique perspective as a non-American black person discovering race for the first time. Her blog becomes popular, and she accepts many invitations to speak at conferences and events. At one such conference, she meets Blaine, a black professor at Yale she had met years earlier on a train. They begin a relationship, bonding over Obama’s presidency. She receives a prestigious fellowship at Princeton, and moves there. Eventually, she decides to move back to Nigeria and breaks up with a bewildered Blaine. She contacts Obinze to tell him she will be coming home.
At the braiding salon, Ifemelu receives a call from Aunty Uju, informing her that Dike, now a teenager struggling with his American/African identity, has attempted suicide. She and Obinze begin regular communications, and after some time spent assisting Uju and Dike, Ifemelu returns to Lagos, rents an apartment in a good neighborhood, and gets a job at a local women’s magazine. She and Obinze meet in person for the first time in years, and she reveals to him what happened in America, confessing to the sexual exploitation she endured and explaining her silence. They begin an affair. She quickly grows bored with her job at the magazine and quits, starting a new blog aimed at those in Lagos who once lived abroad in America or the UK. Though she and Obinze enjoy their time together, she is jealous of his wife, while he feels guilty, as though he has shirked his responsibilities. She calls him a coward, and they do not speak for months. Obinze tries to tell his wife, Kosi, that he wants a divorce, but she shuts him down, and his closest friends also advise him against breaking up his family. Seven months after their last conversation, Obinze appears at Ifemelu’s door, telling her he has left Kosi and wants to be with her. She lets him in.