The novels that we get excited about tend to colonise new ground; either out or up. The ones that go "out" introduce us to a new world, or give us a new perspective on one that is well-known to literature: a window into the Aboriginal experience, a Bengali perspective on London. Those that go "up" are also concerned with conquering new territory, but they do so by expanding the form, creating new ways that we might represent consciousness, new approaches to narrative fiction.
Occasionally, they go out and up, as is the case with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's third novel, Americanah, a brilliant exploration of being African in America.
At its centre is Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who after university has moved to America where she completes her postgraduate studies and achieves renown as the author of the blog Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) By a Non-American Black, in which she posts on her relationships with a white American boyfriend and then a black American boyfriend, body size, hair straightening, the complexities of pan-Africanism and Barack Obama.
All the time, though, she is yearning for Obinze, her childhood sweetheart who never got the green card he was hoping for and had to settle for a harrowing stint working illegally in London before an attempted sham marriage leads to his deportation.
Back in Lagos things sort of get better, but his new prosperity is based on kowtowing to the local big men. Things only really start to look up when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, now an "Americanah", newly estranged from her home country, but also newly perceptive about it.
Using an old-fashioned love story as her vehicle, Adichie has created a kaleidoscopic work that looks at race from all angles: the formal ingenuity of the blog posts cleverly licenses her Kundera-like mini-essays, each of which enriches the themes of the narrative, and her particular perspective on being black in America is full of new insight and great wisdom.
Americanah is an urgent and important book, further evidence that its author is a real talent who is out there, on the up and up. © Telegraph
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
4th Estate, pbk, 400 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie