This was a long book. It’s the longest book I have read in a long time. The story that lies within will make you feel as if you have lived a long time and have the mental scars to show for it. This book is mostly about race (the main character writes a blog about being a Non-American Black in America) but I fully recognize that as a white person I have no place writing about or critiquing such experience. It is worth noting that this book opened my eyes about the African immigrant experience in America, which I am so grateful for. I also enjoyed the differences in experience that were found throughout the book, between male and female, old and young, black in England and black in America. The crowning glory of this book though is the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze that is interwoven with the other stories; a lasting, unforgetting love is something that Adiche writes about so beautifully that you believe it to be possible.
Ifemelu writes in her blog that African blacks that relocate to America are no longer from Nigeria or Ghana or wherever, they are “black baby” and must accept everything that comes with that. Every time I read about the American black experience through the eyes of an African native, I felt a kind of misidentification. It’s the gut reaction that makes people want to defend themselves and say “not all men” or “not all white people” when really what we should be focusing on is the fact that someone is being oppressed and needs our assistance. I wanted to scream on her behalf “not all black people!” but even that would be inaccurate. This is true of those of Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx heritage in America as well (also Muslims or anyone wearing headscarves or other kinds of religious/ethnic garb). It is not where you are from, it is where you LOOK like you are from that brings discrimination knocking at your door and biting at your heels. It would do Ifemelu or any of her countrymen no good to scream that they were African into the void. In the eyes of America, they were black and inherited everything that comes with that. The way Adiche described each of the characters coming to terms with this terrible reality outside of their home country of Nigeria made me feel so sad, so angry, and very helpless.
The love story in this book is so compelling that I wish it was real for me. Childhood lovers broken apart by an ocean and a desire for education and growth, each has their own journey of discovery, shame, and racism that eventually leads them back to each other. What they do once they are together again in Nigeria I will leave for you to discover, as Obinze has married a woman and had a child with her in the years Ifemelu was in America blogging and going to school. The reason that she stops emailing him after arriving in America disgusted me and broke my heart at the same time. There are things that women must to do to survive sometimes that ultimately change them forever, and I empathize with Ifemelu’s terrible choice. Some things just can’t be undone or forgotten, but maybe they can be accepted and rendered meaningless by those who love us most. Will they or won’t they? Read to find out.
This book is ultimately a dissertation on African immigration and travel experience with a love story to keep you coming back for more. I wish that more people would read it. Every book like this that I read opens my eyes and my mind to more options, more possibilities, and more experiences that I may never have, but should always respect, understand, and appreciate. Bravo Aunty Adiche, bravo!