Originally published March 22nd, 2014
I am not going to be able to do this book justice with my review. I suspected that before I started reading it and now that I’m finished the realization kind of curdles my stomach. Because I’d love to be able to write something truly insightful about Adichie’s eye-opening work. Full disclosure: I’m about as white as it gets. If I were any more white I’d be albino. So I don’t know anything about how it feels to be racially discriminated against. Adichie made me feel as though I’d lived it. All the unnoticed slights and dismissals of voice, of personhood. The “White Privilege Test” (p347) Adichie copies? Invents? (I couldn’t help thinking about how easily this test could be slightly tweaked and reused for male privilege.) Ifemelu questions the usefulness of this test as she posts it on her blog, but I could see it. It’s for the people who don’t believe that gender/race-based privilege exists. Because they never question these things. Because these doors already stand open for them, and are rarely pulled shut in their face.
I was expecting more challenges for Ifemelu and Obinze when she came back to Nigeria. The flyleaf claims that when she returns they will face the toughest decisions of their lives. But compared to what Ifemelu went through during her years in America, and Obinze during his years in England, I thought their challenges in Nigeria seemed…not a cakewalk, but nothing more than the ordinary difficulties of two people trying to reunite after decades apart. Although really, how hard-hearted do you have to be to complain that someone’s life isn’t difficult enough? Even a fictional character.
It struck me as though Adichie was running out of time to end the story. That America had sprawled so far across what she expected it to take up that she had to cut space out of Africa to fit it all in. Not that I felt unsatisfied with the ending. Just that I assumed Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria would be given equal weight to her time in America, and it wasn’t. The difficulties were pared down and simplified as though Adichie suspected her readers would remember them all from Ifemelu’s last cross-continent move, and she didn’t want to waste the space repeating herself. It wasn’t as difficult for Ifemelu to settle back in to her Nigerian self as I thought it might be. I guess this would be where I put in a corny line about taking the Nigerian out of Nigeria but not getting the Nigeria out of the Nigerian? That seems like it would be a waste of time.
I kind of hope this book shows up on secondary/post-secondary reading lists across the continent. I think that would be good for everyone.