Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel was longlisted for the Man Booker prize; her second, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. Now her third, the acclaimed Americanah, has beaten Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch to win the Nigerian author one of most prestigious literary prizes in the US, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) award.Adichie’s story of a Nigerian blogger who returns to her home country from the US to meet the man who was her childhood sweetheart was much-praised in the UK; the Guardian called it “impressive [and] subtle, but not afraid to pull its punches”; the Telegraph said it was “a brilliant exploration of being African in America”. Now the NBCC awards – the only US prize judged by critics – has also chosen to honour the novel, on Thursday announcing the “love story, immigrant’s tale and acute snapshot of our times” as the winner of its best novel prize, ahead of The Goldfinch, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, Javiar Marías’s The Infatuations and Alice McDermott’s Someone.
Americanah, which has also just been longlisted for the Baileys women’s fiction prize, alongside titles by Evie Wyld, Elizabeth Gilbert and Booker-winner Eleanor Catton, had previously found favour among US book reviewers. The New York Times called it “witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic, both worldly and geographically precise, a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us”, and the Washington Post said it contained “a ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides” of the United States and Nigeria.
At the ceremony on Thursday, Sheri Fink’s “extraordinary reconstruction” of the days following Hurricane Katrina, Five Days at Memorial, won the NBCC non-fiction prize, and Frank Bidart took the poetry award for his collection Metaphysical Dog, “which continues his lifelong exploration of the big questions”, said the NBCC. Farewell, Fred Voodoo by Amy Wilentz, a “gritty, surprising” memoir based on her years reporting from Haiti, won the autobiography award; the biography prize was taken by Leo Damrosch’s “spellbinding” life of Jonathan Swift; and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenoma won the first John Leonard prize for an outstanding debut book in any genre.