This is the story of a young woman, Ifemelu, who grows up in Nigeria and comes to America for a better life and the continuation of her college education. While here, she starts a successful and profitable blog which explores the experience of Africans and African-Americans in America. She offers many insights into the way black people are perceived and treated by non-blacks and each other vis-a-vis race, class, and cultural differences. Her observations are made directly through her blog posts included in the story and sometimes as her unexpressed thoughts. Ifemelu is presumably the surrogate spokesperson for the author and compared to the other characters, offers the most insightful views and the least tainted by bias and ignorance. Ifemelu has several boy friends throughout the novel, the most important of which is Obinze. After their friendship in Nigeria, and Ifemelu’s departure to America, Obinze travels to England where he attempts to marry for citizenship and is caught and deported back to Nigeria instead. Back in Nigeria he becomes a successful businessman and marries Kosi and they have a daughter. After several years in America, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and goes through reverse culture shock as she resumes her life in Nigeria and now sees her homeland from a more worldly perspective. Her personal life continues to evolve, but I will stop here so as not to spoil the ending.
I enjoyed the novel and found the cross-cultural comparisons enlightening for the most part. About mid-novel one of Ifemelu’s blog posts made some assertions which I felt revealed some of her own blind spots and biases. The post is addressed to “Dear American Non-Black” and lists many examples of how African-Americans have suffered worse than other groups and that no other people, such as Jews, Mexicans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, women, or poor people (her examples) can compare their injustices to those suffered by Blacks. Well Ifemelu, just be glad you are heterosexual, because the penalty for being gay in Nigeria is death by stoning.
The author gives a TED Talk below. She speaks about her background and similar cultural themes as those explored in her book.