AUTHOR: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s a splendid writer. This 2013 novel takes us from Nigeria to the United States and back, and she rather ingeniously portrays both the culture shock of her main character, Ifemulu, when she heads west, and the reverse culture shock she experiences upon her return to her native country fifteen years later.
Through Ifemulu’s travels, education, jobs, and relationships, Adichie explores issues of race, identity, class, and ethnicity, and makes some rather trenchant observations. Ifemulu can be prickly and judgmental, and makes some poor decisions along the way, but overall, I found her to be an immensely likeable character: perceptive, wise, and honest.
A few chapters are told from the perspective of Obinze, Ifemulu’s old boyfriend from back home, as he also leaves Nigeria, leads a shadowy and dangerous existence as an undocumented immigrant in London, gets deported on the eve of a sham marriage, and eventually becomes a wealthy businessman and land developer in a newly prosperous Nigeria. As sometimes happens with contemporary novels, I realized, when encountering Obinze in London, that I’d read the chapter before, as a short story in The New Yorker.
The novel is not without its flaws. There were a few too many scenes mocking pretentious wealthy westerners at cocktail parties (they must be fun to write), more of Ifemulu’s blog posts than seemed entirely necessary, and far too many details about secondary characters. Actually, in my opinion, there were too many secondary characters altogether, characters who didn’t add anything of substance to the plot or to Ifemulu’s journey. An editor with a firm hand could have cut it down by a hundred or so pages.
But still. It’s a good meld of social satire and a traditional love story. I liked Ifemulu, I liked Obinze, and I would dearly love to meet their creator. Although she’s sometimes angry with the state of the world (and who with a heart and a mind isn’t?) she seems to have a delightful sense of humor. Plus she did this 2009 TED Talk which I think is absolutely phenomenal and well worth 18 minutes and 46 seconds of your time: The Danger of a Single Story
RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3.5 Whistles
HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon
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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org