Americanah took five years to write. ‘For a long time I’ve wanted to write about two things: a love story that doesn’t apologise for being a love story, in the grand tradition of the Mills & Boon novel; and I also wanted to write about race in America. I hadn’t felt ready until now.’ The title refers to an immigrant who has become Americanised – Ifemelu gets called ‘Americanah’ by her friends. Adichie writes with great affection for her subjects but she is not sentimental. Americanah is a dense story with a very light touch – it moves effortlessly between time frames and countries, making acute political points without haranguing.
Adichie has compared America to ‘a very rich uncle who doesn’t really know who you are, but all the same you can’t help being fond of him’.
‘I like America but it’s not mine and it never will be,’ she says now. ‘I don’t really have a life there. I travel and I speak and I sit in my study trying to write, but in Nigeria I have a life. I go out, I have friends, I feel emotionally invested in what’s happening.’
Last year Adichie was the youngest person to deliver the annual Commonwealth lecture at the Guildhall, and her TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) lecture on national identity, The Dangers of a Single Story, is one of its most popular. She is an eloquent person with big ideas, who is very interested in pan-African politics. ‘The idea of aid as a solution to Africa’s problems is something I don’t agree with at all. When you look at countries that have succeeded, aid didn’t do it. Aid creates dependency.’ She resents how applying for aid has become a job in itself. ‘It’s not looking for money to start a business, it’s writing a proposal so someone gives you money. Nigeria is not like that yet, and I hope we don’t become like that as it’s unhealthy. If we had electricity every day and it was constant and we had good roads and water, people would do things, they are full of initiative.’ It would, she believes, make a huge difference to productivity, self-esteem, motivation. Instead they are plagued by inconsistency in the most basic infrastructure.
‘I am very much a social engineer at heart,’ she says. ‘I love Nigeria and Africa and if you love a place that you know is kind of broken, you want it to be whole. I am always watching. For example, when I have my hair done I am watching the women in the salon, wondering how things could be better for them. The salon has to close at seven because they turn the generator off. And diesel is expensive so what they have to pay to maintain the generator is already taking a lot from what the salon makes, which in turn affects how much the workers in the hair salon are paid.’"
— Jessamy Calkin, “Love In The Time Of Cornrows: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Her New Novel”, The Telegraph (UK) 4/6/13