I was recommended this novel by my younger sister, and I loved it! On the cover, the novel tells the story of Ifemelu, from her point of view; she is a young Nigerian women who moves to the USA to attend university. Ifemelu tells the story of her life before, during and after emigration, and discusses the best and worst of her family and love life, the strains moving across the world can have on relationships, what she likes about the USA and how she struggles to settle in, and her university life. Another story, a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, her high school sweetheart, is woven into the pages.
I enjoyed every bit of the story, but for me the novel is really about racial identity and the differences in identity in black populations between Nigeria and the USA. Having never lived in, or even been to, either place, and as a white person from the UK, I found this interesting but not very relatable. What I did find fully relatable however was the narrator’s journey of and through her own identity. As a ‘multiethnic’ person who has moved countries I have, over the years, felt and tried to deal with many of the issues that arose in the novel. Trying to figure out what identity means, where you fit within your identity and within a wider collective identity, how others perceive you and your identity based on what you look and sound like, and whether any of that matters anyway are all familiar to me and I took real pleasure in reading Ifemelu’s journey through those same issues. Ifemelu’s story takes you through the dynamism of what identity really means, in all its complexities.
Likewise, her description and discussion of what it’s like to move countries, to a culture both completely similar and entirely different to the one you grew up in really resonated with me, and I appreciated her forays into how almost banal exercises (like going to the hairdresser, waiting for a bus, or going shopping) can really impact your own experience, of yourself and of others, and can tell you so much about how others see, perceive and experience you and your identity. Ifemelu tells of the difficulties of leaving your home only to return as ‘the other’; the one who is now foreign, a stranger in their own country – again, something I have felt more than once – and of the awkwardness of trying to fit back into a world where nothing except your self has changed.
I definitely recommend this book for all of you who have experienced your own identity crisis – it put into beautiful words feelings that I have always found difficult to express and made my own experience feel more real, valued and also more personally manageable.