A sensitive portrayal of distant love, broken affinities and culture clash by Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus, 2003, etc.).
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, it’s said—but as often it makes the heart grow forgetful. Ifemelu, beautiful and naturally aristocratic, has the good fortune to escape Nigeria during a time of military dictatorship. It is a place and a society where, as a vivacious “aunty” remarks, “[t]he problem is that there are many qualified people who are not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t even know how to lick an ass.” Ifemelu’s high school sweetheart, Obinze, is too proud for any of that; smart and scholarly, he has been denied a visa to enter post-9/11 America (says his mother, “[t]he Americans are now averse to foreign young men”), and now he is living illegally in London, delivering refrigerators and looking for a way to find his beloved. The years pass, and the world changes: In the America where Ifemelu is increasingly at home, “postracial” is a fond hope, but everyone seems just a little bewildered at how to get there, and meanwhile, Ifemelu has to leave the safe, sheltered confines of Princeton to go to Trenton if she’s to get her hair done properly. The years pass, and Ifemelu is involved in the usual entanglements, making a reunion with Obinze all the more complicated. Will true love win out? Can things be fixed and contempt disarmed? All that remains to be seen, but for the moment, think of Adichie’s elegantly written, emotionally believable novel as a kind of update of Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale.
Soap-operatic in spots, but a fine adult love story with locations both exotic and familiar.