As teenagers in Nigeria, Ifem and Obinze plan a new life far away in America, aiming to leave the coups and the strikes behind. The reality, when it comes, is very different. Separated, isolated and strangers in foreign countries, Ifem and Obinze and driven apart. Years later, they are given the opportunity to reconnect. But has time changed too much to bring them back together?
Their story is the glue that holds this novel together, but it does take somewhat of a back seat to the themes that the author works so hard to develop and address. In Ifem, Adichie creates a strong, individual voice which shines through the writing. Her character is not without its flaws, but that’s what makes her real. I particularly loved the sections where Ifem speaks through her blog. These sections is particular are used to provide an in-depth commentary and critique on the issues surrounding race and class in America, and later also in Nigeria. She cuts right to the heart of some fairly controversial issues and lays everything on the table for us to consider and make our own opinions on in our own time.
I also found the parts of the novel set back in Nigeria really interesting. Ifem leaves America longing for home, but when she gets there, she finds herself changed. When the fantasy becomes a reality, it is distinctly underwhelming, and Ifem is still left looking for something more. This feeling of displacement, and not truly fitting in anywhere other than with other expats, is a constant theme throughout the book – no matter where she is living.
Both Ifem and Obinze hit rock bottom in their attempts to build a new life outside of Nigeria. Their experiences are completely different, but have the same effect of crushing their optimism and spirit. Their attempts to rebuild and recoup following these experiences take their lives in wildly different directions. Ifem gains citizenship in America and builds a life abroad. Obinze builds a life in Nigeria. Their different stories, social lives and the way that they are treated by others around them, offer a fascinating look into two very different cultures.
I really enjoyed this book – it was funny, interesting and insightful. If you’ve read this and enjoyed it, I also read ‘We Need New Names’ by NoViolet Bulawayo recently, which tackles many of the same type of issues and is well worth a read.