Coming Home



CURRENT BOOK:  Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Today was a dreary day in New Orleans.  The husband got out to cut the grass, and sure enough it started raining right after he had finished and come inside and showered.  Better today than yesterday.  Yesterday we did an all-day pub crawl where we walked a total of two miles in an uptown neighborhood, going several blocks from one bar to the next.  So it would have made things difficult if it had rained yesterday.  Fortunately there was only one passing shower, and then it actually helped that it was overcast.  You can imagine that after doing all of that yesterday, especially while it is gloomy outside, I lacked motivation to do much today.  So while the husband worked in the yard, I finished Americanah.  It’s my goal to read all these books, so I was being productive, right?

Anyway, Obinze goes to the United Kingdom but has trouble doing so legally and works under a false identity while planning a sham marriage so he can remain in the country.  Unfortunately, just before the marriage is supposed to go through, he is discovered and is deported back to Nigeria.  In Nigeria, he reunites with his family and eventually gets into real estate development and meets and marries his wife, with whom he has a daughter.

Meanwhile, Ifemelu becomes involved in a relationship with a white guy who is close with the family she is nannying for.  She begins a blog regarding race which takes off to the point that she is actually able to make a living from it, and it leads to a career opportunity at an Ivy League school (I wish!)  She meets a young man named Blaine on a train, and although they exchange numbers they do not contact each other because they are both involved in other relationships at the time.  Later, they meet again when they are both free, and they have a long-term relationship.  However, Ifemelu ultimately decides that she is not getting everything she wanted from Blaine and ends the relationship, shuts down her blog, and makes plans to return to Nigeria to work for a women’s magazine.

There are many entries throughout the book from Ifemelu’s fictional blog, which help to convey the author’s perspective, but being so far outside that perspective I found it hard to fully appreciate, as much as I wanted to.  And I think it might be debatable whether there was so much of it, that it took away from the novel.  On the other hand, the election of Barack Obama and the events leading up to the historic vote, were interesting from Ifemelu’s perspective, especially keeping in mind that she is Nigerian rather than American.  I also found it interesting and related to a large degree to Ifemelu’s difficulties in working with her hair, as my own is quite unruly.  She encounters pressure, especially as she embarks on a professional career, to have her hair relaxed, which ends up being unhealthy for her hair, and she struggles to manage her hair in its natural state.

Ifemelu delays her return to Nigeria because her nephew attempts suicide, but she does leave the United States after the dust has settled and she feels that his mental state has stabilized.  Back in Nigeria, she settles into a new apartment, however she does not so easily settle into her new job, as the women’s magazine lacks depth, and while the editor wants to gain an edge over the competing women’s magazine, the editor is also reluctant to do anything new or different.  Ultimately, Ifemelu leaves the magazine and starts a new blog where she discusses things that have changed in Nigeria or that are different from the perspective of someone who spent so much time in the United States.  She brings her nephew to visit and he enjoys it and is able to find out more about his late father.

Interestingly, except perhaps for the condition of apartments in her price range and the unreliability of electric service in Nigeria, Ifemelu does not seem to miss American conveniences, especially where food is concerned, preferring instead the traditional comfort foods prepared by her mother.  She does not immediately contact Obinze, making an excuse that she wants to lose weight before she sees him.  She reconnects with former girlfriends and although she still generally enjoys their company, she has a harder time finding common ground with some of them than she did before.  Putting aside her experiences in the United States, many of her friends’ circumstances have changed including marriage and motherhood, and their priorities are different.

When Ifemelu does contact Obinze, he wants to meet with her immediately, and she acts on impulse and agrees.  They very easily re-establish their bond.  Ifemelu tells Obinze about the incident with the coach, and Obinze is sympathetic.  Although they try to hold back, their relationship becomes sexual again before long.  However, despite that his marriage is unfulfilling and that he realizes he always loved Ifemelu and should never have married, Obinze is initially reluctant to leave his wife.  When he finally does admit to his wife that he has reunited with Ifemelu and wants to be her, his wife reveals that she was aware of the affair and insists that she wants to keep the family together.  When Obinze will not follow through and divorce his wife, Ifemelu breaks off their relationship.  He tries repeatedly to contact her, but she ignores him.  Finally, in the final paragraphs of the book, he shows up at Ifemelu’s door and tells her that he has left his wife so the two of them can share their lives.  It is brief and almost anticlimactic.

It was predictable that Ifemelu and Obinze were “meant to be” and would get back together in the end, however, they certainly did take some interesting twists and turns along the way.  I enjoyed the novel even though I felt throughout the story that the characters were making some foolish choices, even if those were the best choices they felt they could make at the time under the circumstances.  The supporting cast in the novel was strong and added much richness.  However, I do think the novel could have been more enjoyable to read without so many essays on race and that the author might have been able to convey some of her ideas through things that happened to the characters.  Still, Adichie’s perspective on the United States is intriguing and something I was able to appreciate.


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