Let’s see, what do I know about Africa? The veld. Lions, elephants, gorillas in the mist, poverty, famine, tribal warfare, ebola, Nelson Mandela, apartheid, safaris, Ethiopian Christians and Ethopian Jews and the Ark of the Covenant, Nigerian Prince scams, the Congo. Jungles. Slavery. OK, that’s about it. Talk about parochial. Oh, wait! There’s also Egypt. How could I forget Egypt? Tunisia, Morocco, Algiers, the Casbah. Geez, Africa is really diverse. More diverse than say, South America, even though S.A. has all those countries.
Well, this book is about Nigeria. And England. And America. You can forget the Nigerian prince scams. This has nothing to do with that. It is mainly about life in Lagos. Funny how the folks in Lagos are an awful lot like the folks in Zacatecas, and like the folks in New Jersey, and like the folks everywhere. If there is one thing I have learned from living in Mexico it is that underneath all the differing cultural facades, everybody is just trying to live their lives, have family, have loves, have friends, have a job, a home.
This is a story by a Nigerian woman, about a Nigerian woman.
First of all, it is a love story. But you don’t really know that until the very very end. Second of all, it is about race, interpersonal relationships, and culture. It is about immigration and home. OK, I think that pretty much covers it.
It is the story of Ifemelu, a young educated Lagosian who decides to move to the United States to further her education. She originally stays with her aunt, who is a medical resident, while she looks for a job, which she has a terrible time finding. What she does find is that in America, race is very important, and racism is rampant. And
In America, you don’t get to decide what race you are. It is decided for you.
So in the book, we learn about life in Nigeria, where
…the true Lagosian was always hustling, eyes eternally alert to the brighter and the better.
Nigerians don’t buy houses because they’re old. A renovated two-hundred-year-old mill granary, you know, the kind of thing Europeans like. It doesn’t work here [Nigeria] at all. But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.
Ifemelu had a love in Lagos, and promised to return. But when she got to America, she got involved with some rich white kid who helped set her up in business. The Lagos boyfriend, who had always wanted so much to go to the states, was constantly denied a visa, so when he had the opportunity to go to England for some business, he got the blessings from his educated mother to disappear into the country and try to get documentation to stay there. He was never able to do so, losing a whole bunch of money to some scammy marriage brokers who set him up with a national so he could stay, but right before the wedding, he was arrested and deported back to Nigeria. Back in Lagos, he came under the mentorship of a wealthy businessman, and he became wealthy himself, gave up on Ifemelu ever returning, and married a beautiful, if bubble-headed woman with whom he had a daughter.
Finally, Ifemelu decides to return to Lagos, and tries to avoid him, but they meet, and ……
So, a love story enwrapped in layers of observations on what it is like when race is an issue, when money is an issue, when people could understand
fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness……. people who resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.
Great story that brings a lot of issues right up front so that we cannot avoid looking at them.
I will give you one last quote, something to give you a chuckle, and a taste of the writing style.
…the tendency of Nigerian women to give advice, sincere advice dense with sanctimony.
And just in case you were a little fuzzy on exactly where Nigeria is: (hint – it is south of Algeria and west of Chad.)