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Americanah Reading Notes

sara.gladwin's picture

Americanah reading notes



“All his life, he had eaten oranges without seeds, oranges grown to look perfectly orange and to have faultless skin and no seeds, so at eight years old he did not know that there was such a thing as an orange with seeds”


-I think that the orange might be a reoccurring them, because she does always ask for OJ. I noticed it when she was first in Kimberly’s house, and thought how odd it seemed that she asked for Orange Juice when asked if she’d like a drink.



“…I told him to look at my son. There are only two of them in the whole school.”

-Uju’s rant on the way Dike is treated at school; experiencing colorblindness in the classroom and how it works to obscure the racism that is present.



On finding her accent:

“This was truly her; this was the voice with which she would speak if she were woken up form a deep sleep during an earthquake.”


How do we know what our “true” voice is? How would I know what my voice would sound like in the middle of an earthquake if I’ve never experienced it? What experiences push us to speak with our true voice?



“…the better she had become at distinguishing, sometimes from looks and gait, but mostly from bearing and demeanor, that fine-grained mark that culture stamps on people.”


What aspects of human presentation trigger our different assumptions? What are the differences in meaning between “looks and gait” and “bearing and demeanor”? This is a prominent theme in the book and could be interesting to bring up… we could ask about first impressions of a person in their life/first impressions of us or each other…. And I feel like they’d love to hear our first impressions. It’s always fascinating to learn what others may or may not have noticed about you when first meeting.



“She had never liked beer. Growing up, it had been male alcohol, gruff and inelegant. Now, sitting next to Blaine, laughing as he told her about the first time he got truly drunk in his freshman year, she realized that she could like beer. The grainy fullness of beer.”


This quote sticks with me… I think it’s the way memory can alter our sensory perception.


I think I’m only just realizing in this chapter that we are still in the hair-braiding salon. This seems significant for a few reasons… on a somewhat surface level, it highlights how long hair braiding can take. Another reason is that it speaks to just how far and deep memory can take you; memory lends the power of time travel, bending the laws of space and time. It’s jarring, this chapter, to be reminded that the character still has not left to return to Nigeria; has not even left her seat in the hair salon; and to realize that this perhaps, intentionally slow moving novel, which seemingly ambles about through Imef’s different memories spanning years of her life actually only covers a few hours up in the present up until this point. We still have no idea where she is headed… but it’s almost like she’s seeing her life flash before her eyes. I’m curious to see whether moving back to Nigeria will in some ways serve as a metaphorical death for Ifem… Another thought I had was that maybe it would not exactly an end and/or death, but a reincarnation/rebirth of some kind… a renewal of the self.



“Ifemelu sometimes sensed, underneath the well oiled sequences of Kimberly’s life, a flash of regret not only for things she longed for in the present but for things she had longed for in the past.”


Again here comes memory popping up thematically…



there’s no quote here, and I’m not sure that my thoughts have any relevance to what’s going on on this page, but it just felt significant to mark down the page that I reached over and typed this up on my computer:

also, it just occurred to me how little I’ve read/heard about her race blog so far. She talked more about it in the beginning… but other than that there are small traces, quotes from blogs she would write later and clearly have some connection/inspiration from the memories/experiences we’re being exposed to at this time in the book… I think this is another interesting play with memory, as she links past memories with more recent memories, without ever revealing too much, we are still in the dark as readers. It’s interesting because I don’t have a very strong sense of what will happen when she gets to Nigeria, and I don’t have a very strong sense of where the novel is headed, and I’m wondering if the reader is being kept in the dark intentionally… other then I know that she and obinze will reunite. That’s the only piece of foreshadowing that I feel very strongly about. It’s interesting too that there are so many complicated themes within the book and the love relationship between obinze and Ifem seems to be some how clichéd/normal storyline, despite everything that is not necessarily “normal” about them.



on obinze:

“With each month of silence that passed between them, she felt the silence itself calcify, and become a hard and hulking statue, impossible to defeat.”

On reimagining herself as “Curt’s Girlfriend”- suddenly her identity has become obscured by this title… seemingly the most important aspect of her is the way she molds to fit into his lifestyle



“…because understanding meant she could no longer tease him…”


“Her skin was glowing.”

And then again on 247, a reference to her skin: “She had slipped out of her old skin.”

There’s something about her lifestyle that is also an erasure of the color of her skin….



“A sepia tone to her memories. She could not remember the kiosk.”



And it occurred to me at this point that I always think it is significant if the main character of a book is also a writer. There’s something meta about it, or maybe its that I feel suddenly closer to the author, and the mystery surrounding the identity of the author and the role that identity plays in the formation of the book/the writing seems to become a little less fuzzy…. It’s like there’s an outline or pieces of the authors real identity lying in plain sight



“She did not recognize herself. She left the salon almost mournfully; while the hairdresser had flat-ironed the ends, the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died, had made her feel a sense of loss.”



“She did not tell her parents how she got the job”

as though the hair got her the job… and I know this sentence is also referring to Curt, but I think it also goes back to this question, she poses, wondering whether she would have gotten the job if she hadn’t straightened her hair.


From her blog:

“…there IS an oppression Olympics going on. American racial minorities… get shit form white folks, different kinds of shit, but shit still. Each secretly believes that it gets the worst shit. So, no, there is no United League of the Oppressed.”


I’m realizing as I type up this quote that who she is in her memories is different from the her that writes the blog posts. When she blogs, she seems unafraid to pass judgment, to hold strong convictions, in a way similar to how she is first described in the beginning of the book before she moves to America- the other boys say that she is difficult to handle (or something to that effect)… she has a sassy quality that becomes muted in America at first and then seems to re-emerge, and reading her blog posts, taken on anger and passion


“He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him that it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being…. In bed, he was anxious… she sensed that he did not always believe her, or that his belief lasted only so long before he would need to hear her affirmation again. There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.”


“Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn’t’ go running with Curt today because you don’t want to sweat out this straightness. That picture you sent me, you had your hair covered on the boat. You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do.”



“Imfemelu was still staring at her hair. What had she done? She looked unfinished, as though the hair itself, short and stubby was asking for attention, for something to be done to it, for more.”


Reminds me of the quote about Curt’s restlessness, his urge to do something.



“Ifemelu stared at one of the photos… the woman’s head thrown back, her long hair flowing behind her. A woman who liked her hair and thought Curt would too.”

It’s just interesting, in this moment, just after Ifem cut her hair and feels distinctly ugly/unsightly, that she would discover that Curt was cheating (actually I kinda did foresee that for some reason, he seems slimy to me, even though I know he’s supposed to be charming, I don’t like him), and this woman’s hair would serve as such a symbol of discontentment/insecurity…



On the day she resigns:

“’You leaving?’ Miss Margaret asked, downcast. ‘Sorry, hon. They need to treat folk better around here. You think your hair was part of the problem?’”

interesting, comes back to this point- that her hair would play a crucial role in being hired/leaving a job…




on hair and religion:

“She had never talked about God so much.”


“On an unremarkable day in early spring- the day was not bronzed with special light, nothing of any significance happened, and it was perhaps merely that time, as it often does, had transfigured her doubts- she looked in the mirror, sank her fingers into her hair, dense and spongy and glorious, and could not imagine it any other way. That simply, she fell in love with her hair.”