Feeling more isolated than ever in America, Ifemelu struggles to find a job and find her place. After traumatic experiences further separate her from Obinze, Ifemelu tries to lose herself in a new job for a rich family as well as in a new romance, but when both casual and blatant racism tinge everyday actions, losing herself may be harder than she thought. Meanwhile, forlorn and dissatisfied Obinze decides to try his luck as an undocumented immigrant in England, a risk that adds paranoia to every thought and encounter.
What I Liked
- Kimberly & Dike: These two characters were just really likable to me, which is a relief in the middle of a novel where most characters are strongly flawed (not that these aren't flawed characters mind you). I feel sorry for Kimberly, and I think we are supposed to. She doesn't make excuses, and is just through and through trying to be a good person in the midst of her own unhappiness and that, sad as it is, is also admirable. Dike, a lot like Kimberly, is an innocent character in a book that doesn't really show a whole lot of innocence. His life encompasses a lot of issues, but I enjoy seeing his childlike sensibilities, and watching his relationship with Ifemelu grow and develop.
- Inclusion of Blog Entries: I really like that we get to start seeing more of Ifemelu's blog posts. I also like that it doesn't really describe her writing them yet, they are just interspersed throughout the flashback at relevant points and its a nice juxtaposition of how her mindset and viewpoint of these racial issues develops as she spends more time in America. Also, they always read true, even though they are being included in a fictional novel, and they hold some quite relevant themes.
- Commentary on America's Blindspots: I think it's important, as Americans, to read viewpoints on America from foreigners, because we always become blind to our own faults. I think that Adichie does a really good job at approaching this viewpoint, especially with how opulent and wasteful we are, how much excess we have when compared to other countries. She does a good job at including this in a wry manner without coming out screechy or chiding.
- The "N" Word Conversation: In college, while working at the Student Success Center, I met a young black woman (referred to here as "S"). Often during our downtime, we would discuss our assorted beliefs, be they about literature, art, religion, or politics. One day, we were discussing the "N" word. I made a comment about how I thought that no one should use the word, white or black, because I felt like it was inherently derogatory. "S" explained to me that that wasn't the case at all, that it also had cultural aspects to it, that within her own culture, it could also be a term of endearment, just the same as if my white mother lovingly shook her head and called me a "Brat" or "Toad" with a small smile when I was being mischievous. Even further, "S" explained that though it's rare that an African American would use the "N" word in a derogatory way, when the term is used by other races, especially whites, it is almost always derogatory. This conversation has stuck with me throughout the years, and when I read the interaction on page 169, Wambui automatically reminded me of "S", and I couldn't help but laugh when she says (smartly): "'That is nonsense...If my mother hits me with a stick and a stranger hits me with a stick, it's not the same thing,'" (169). It reminded me of the same reasoning "S" had laid out that day.
What I Didn't Like
- Curt and Covert Racism: I don't like Curt. I don't know if we are supposed to or not. Overall, I guess he's more or less harmless, but there was just something about him that seemed really fake to me. To me, Curt represented a specific type of racism, and there are times that he clearly objectifies Ifemelu. He is attracted to her "exotic" qualities. To him, she is an adventure, and that is a dangerous type of subtle dehumanization that is often prevalent in our society. Though he rages that she is forced to change her hair, something that you would think would make him honorable, it comes across like he is more upset about the loss of something he found attractive and less like he is upset at the injustice. I think that Adichie makes this more apparent on page 263 when Ifemelu is asked by a passing man, "'You ever wonder why he likes you looking all jungle like that?'" (263).
- Laura and Overt Racism: I hate Laura. She's just one of those characters. All bad things. She typifies a blatant, in your face racism. She is insulting and snide and expects gratitude in return. She is the type of person that Ifemelu writes about in her blog post, the kind that will "tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion" (275). One of my favorite parts of this entire reading section was probably when Ifemelu finally pops back on page 207:
"'...I knew a woman from Africa...she was wonderful, and she didn't get along with the African-American woman in our class at all. She didn't have all those issues.' / 'Maybe when the African American's father was not allowed to vote because he was black, the Ugandan's father was running for parliament or studying at Oxford...it's a simplistic comparison to make. You need to understand a bit more history,'" (207-8).
- Ifemelu's First Job: This was, thus far, the most heartbreaking moment in the book. It's heartbreaking that Ifemelu was sent to such a desperate place that she was forced to these measures. It is also heartbreaking to see the effects of her trauma, her withdrawal from Obinze and the others she knows, her disassociation with her own self, and the fact that she never seems to find anyone to talk to about what happened.
- Obinze & Ifemelu Separated: Building on our previous point, though it is understandable why Ifemelu would lock Obinze out on a psychological point, that doesn't make it any less frustrating. We are aware from the beginning of the book that the two are no longer together, but their ending is just so devoid of closure- it's painful to read.
Quote of the Week
"On the day she got her first piece of junk mail she told him, 'Guess what? I got a letter today.' That credit card preapproval, with her name correctly spelled and elegantly italicized, had roused her spirits, made her a little less invisible, a little more present. Somebody knew her," (162).
- What lasting affects does Ifemelu's trauma have? What countless events does it trigger that effect the characters in different ways?
- In a country based on "freedom" I think a lot of people get riled when we are told that we shouldn't say or do something. What thoughts do you have on the debate around the "N" word? (please be sensitive and respectful in your responses)
- How does Adichie display both Covert and Overt racism throughout the novel? Of course, we know that any type of racism is BAD, but if you would like to debate which one is worse (it's a trick question...because they're both bad...but for discussion's sake...) do so in the comments.
- Anything else you thought about while reading that was presented here? Let me know in the comments!