Goodreads synopsis: As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
I had to read this for my World Literature class, which is not to say that I was forced to read it exactly. I was planning on reading Americanah eventually, and my class just forced me to do so earlier. I didn’t think that I would review it because Adichie is kind of an activism goddess, and I felt like there would be nothing to criticize, and if I did criticize something, how dare I criticize the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I mean, she was in a Beyoncé song. But anyway, I am going to review this, and I’m going to criticize it a bit, while trying not to think about who wrote it and all that.
I really really really enjoyed this book. It was a little long, but I liked it a lot. I felt like I learned a lot, about race and about African culture. I have read very few books that I knew were by African or African-American authors before I started reading them. (A few weeks ago I read Nervous Conditions, which was great, but I don’t have enough to say on it to review it. It was also for class.) I know that I will never understand what it’s like to be black in America, but I felt like reading this book is the closest that a white person can get to understanding, and it was really eye-opening. I would honestly recommend this book to everyone, because it’s interesting as a piece of fiction, and it’s informative as a book about race and culture.
From a strictly fiction-editing standpoint, I thought it was a little repetitive at times. Adichie wrote from the point of view of both Ifemelu and Obinze, and I was bothered by how many times she mentioned one of them getting suddenly angry. In every chapter, one of them would say something like, “Character X said something, and I suddenly disliked them.” I feel like dislike is a constant feeling that you have for a person, and I can be annoyed by someone for a moment, but that’s not what Adichie said most of the time. And even if you replace the word “disliked” with “was annoyed by”, it still happened far too often. It made me frustrated with Ifemelu and Obinze, because I thought they got annoyed or disliked people for very unfair reasons as well as too often, and I wanted to tell them to relax a little. They didn’t have to huff and sulk every time someone said something a little differently than the way they wanted the person to say it. I was also a little bit bothered by the ending (spoilers ahead). I didn’t want Obinze and Ifemelu to get back together for good, like the ending implies. I generally liked Obinze up until he started cheating on his wife. I get that he didn’t love Kosi, but he should have known not to marry her. And books where high school lovers end up getting married annoy me because I just don’t feel like that’s believable. Still, I absolutely loved reading this book, and I must beg everyone in the world to give it a try.