I loved this book! Adichie is a brilliant writer. I equally enjoyed her previous book, Half a Yellow Sun which won the Orange prize. There is an absorbing story in her new book as well as a lesson we could all benefit from. Adichie is never preachy or patronizing, yet she enlightens the reader through the eyes of her characters. She teaches us a lesson about race and stereotyping and the loneliness of missing love and companionship. The theme that runs through the book is the difference between Africans and African Americans and how people perceive them without understanding. The setting shifts with the telling of the stories of two main characters who live in Nigeria, Britain and the United States.
The tale opens in Lagos, Nigeria where we meet two high school students Ifemelu and Obinze who fall in love. They never fall out of love, but they become separated by time, distance and the different paths their lives follow. We learn about everyday life in middle class Nigerian families in this section of the book.
Ifemelu eventually moves to the United States to further her education. This is the most interesting part of the book to me, as Adichie shows the reader through Ifemelu that there is a large difference in experience and temperament between American blacks and Africans. It is not only that their English sounds different, there is a cultural gap as well. Ifemelu finds her footing in her new country, and she has an affair with a white American who is the brother of a sincere, but clueless blond yummy mummy who has hired her as a nanny. As Ifemelu grows in her cultural understanding of Americans, black and white, she becomes a well-known and successful blogger on cultural differences among blacks. She receives a fellowship from Princeton and falls in love with a black professor at Yale.
While Ifemelu is having her awakening in the States, Obinze is having his own experience in Britain where he has gone to further his studies. Adichice is equally observant of the black cultural experience in London where there is a large population of Jamaicans who are distinct from the Africans who have immigrated to England. Obinze is less outspoken than Ifemelu who never hesitates to voice her strong opinions. Unlike Ifemelu who holds a green card in America, Obinze is an illegal in London and he eventually is found out and deported. When he arrives back in Nigeria his life takes a turn for the better, and as the years go by that separates the former lovers, he becomes a successful businessman and property developer. He marries and fathers a child.
After her relationship with the professor falls apart, Ifemelu makes the decision to return to Nigeria. Now as a adult, she is seeing her countrymen through eyes that have seen the world in a different light. The society she enters into is one not unlike that of the American nouveau rich where there is one upmanship, jealousy and jockeying for social position. In Lagos she finds a pecking order not so different than its American counterpart.
Adichie turns a critical eye equally on Britain, America and Nigeria. Through Ifemelu's blog, she is unsparing but honest in her commentary. Much of the book is drawn on Adichie's own experiences. This novel tells a fascinating story of love and loss and humanity. I highly recommend it to all readers, and it will evoke an interesting discussion in reading groups. As an aside, I just read an article that said the book will be made into a movie staring Lupita Nyong'o who was an Academy Award winner this year.