Ifemelu and Obinze haven't seen each other in years, Ifemelu has been at college in America and Obinze is once again in Nigeria with a new wife. Recently, however, Ifemelu's imminent return to her home country has brought them to the forefront of each others minds. Through Ifemelu's memories we read how the two met each other and fell in love, and how they remain connected even with an ocean between them.
What I Liked
- Non-Linear Story-Telling: Most of Ifemelu and Obinze's love story is told via flashback as Ifemelu is getting her hair braided. At times, this can be a bit confusing, but I enjoy the non-linear story telling technique. As we jump around between past and present and between Ifemelu and Obinze, we get a better sense of the two and of the passage of time. Something about the narrative jumps out a little bit more and we get the sense of timelessness to their love story. It also creates a stronger sense of anticipation for their eventual reunion.
- Ifemelu and the Hair-Braiders: Every scene between this group was hilarious. Though Ifemelu definitely seems a bit snobbish (almost looking down on the woman doing her hair), their interactions remain humorous and offered a lot of comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious story.
- Sewn in Social Commentary: I had heard that Adichie was a bit heavy handed in her social commentary throughout the novel, but I thought that it was actually pretty well done. We do see a lot of themes regarding immigration, race, and sex, but they came up realistically and are approached much the same as we do in our day to day life.
- Obinze's Mother: Obinze's mother is probably my favorite character so far. I enjoy how she stays away from that stereotype of the overbearing "mother-in-law" figure and actually ends up being a strong maternal influence over Ifemelu. Also, her backstory is just badass...so badass that I have included it below...
"She was on a committee and they discovered that this professor had misused funds and my mother accused him publicly and he got angry and slapped her and said he could not take a woman talking to him like that. So my mother got up and locked the door of the conference room...she told him she could not slap him back because he was strogner than her, but he would have to apologize to her publicly, in front of all the people who had seen him slap her...People were saying, Oh, why did he slap her when she's a widow, and that annoyed her even more. She said she should not have been slapped because she is a full human being, not because she doesn't have a husband to speak for her. So some of her female students went and printed Full Human Being on T-shirts," (71).
What I Didn't Like
- A Little Pessimistic: Ifemelu isn't always very like-able as a character. At times she seems snobbish and arrogant, but I have to say my biggest struggle reading this book is just her pessimism. She was very negative about her home in Nigeria, and equally negative about the life she has lived in America thus far, and while I understand that this is important commentary on the difficulty of immigrant life, it still makes for a tough read. I wouldn't necessarily say that it is a "bad" thing about the book or the writing, just something that nags at you as you read.
- Aunty Uju's Narrative: I started out really enjoying Aunty Uju. I thought she was a really strong feminine role model for Ifemelu, but it seems like her character just falls off the tracks. I'm not quite sure where she's going, and nothing about her character seems fully developed...some of her decisions and actions make no sense when compared to the description of her character, which can make it frustrating to read about her later on in this section.
- Lost Characters: Building on my commentary regarding Aunty Uju, I would have to say that a lot, if not all, of the characters in this book that just seem lost. Once again, I am aware that there is a lot to be said and heard there, and that the sensation of being lost is a strong aspect of immigrant life, and on a literary analysis level, I'm loving it, but, once again, it does make for a difficult read. However, if you can have the patience to delve into this dark place, I think there is a lot to learn.
- Hispanics over-simplified: I would say that this last topic is the only one that I feel may be a reflection on Adichie as a writer. On page 129, Adichie describes one of Ifemelu's blog posts, "Understanding America for the Non-American Black: What Hispanic Means", and reading it just seemed like a gross oversimplification to me. In my studies of multicultural literature, I've come to learn that the Hispanic and Latinx culture(s) are extremely complex and are full of vivid traditions and values, and hearing these cultures just dumbed down to this simplified list was a bit frustrating. I also read this right after hearing about some of Adichie's comments on the status of trans-women, and so it makes me wonder if this is supposed to be an example of Ifemelu's sometimes arrogant personality, or if it is truly a reflection of what Adichie herself believes, in which case, I would hope that she would do a bit more research into the blend of cultures and values that make up the Hispanic and Latinx communities.
Quote of the Week
"...a dread-locked white man who sat next to her...might make a good guest blogger. 'Race is totally overhyped these days, black people need to get over themselves...' he told her evenly and she used it as the opening sentence of a post titled 'Not All Dreadlocked White American Guys Are Down' Then there was the man from Ohio, who squeezed next to her on a flight. A middle manager, she was sure, from his boxy suit and contrast collar...he told her that he and his wife had adopted a black child and their neighbors looked at them as though they had chosen to become martyrs for a dubious cause. Her blog post about him, 'Badly-dressed White Middle Managers from Ohio Are Not Always What You Think' had received the highest number of comments for that month," (4-5).
- What did you think of the story telling methods that Adichie uses in her novel (ie flashback and non-linear prose)? Why do you think that Adichie chose to tell the story this way? What affect does this have on the narrative?
- Adichie reverses a lot of stereotypes in her novel (see the quote above as well as the excerpt on page 127 that talks about the climate in Africa versus the climate in America). How do you think this aides the narrative? Do you think that having her main character be confronted with these reversals does anything to "soften the blow" of some of her harsher commentary?
- Has reading so far impacted the way you view race (your own or others?) How and why?
- Was there anything else that stuck out in your mind while reading that you would like to bring up in the comments? Tell me what you think! Do you love it or hate it?