Here is an example of how book clubs can be lovely things. I probably never would have picked up this book on my own. The description didn’t draw me in at all – namely because I don’t gravitate novels set in the contemporary world. Reading is an escape for me and the modern world feels way too mundane. All rules have exceptions, however, and this book was definitely an exception – perhaps because the book partially takes place far away and follows a protagonist very different from myself. Whatever the reason I was never bored and definitely felt transported.
This novel follows Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who immigrated to America in her early 20s and, now in her 30s, is about to return to Nigeria. Her story is told in a series of flashbacks and shifting perspectives – from a braiding salon in Trenton to the world of undocumented immigrants in London to the bustling metropolis of Lagos in Nigeria. Some of the book club ladies didn’t like all this switching about and found it confusing and/or off-putting. I really liked it; I thought it was well executed and it kept me engaged.
I think we all felt that Ifemelu’s observations about race in America were the strength of the novel. Ifemelu, being from Nigeria, has a unique perspective on what it feels like to be black in America – never having felt ‘black’ or considered race much while living in Africa. I also really enjoyed learning about life in Lagos – a city I knew next to nothing about prior to reading. Ifemelu’s Lagos is very middle to upper class and presents a segment of African life that will likely be pretty unfamiliar to most American readers.
It’s interesting to me that Ifemelu isn’t a very warm, fuzzy character and yet she’s a totally sympathetic protagonist. She’s prickly, outspoken and definitely dabbles in a lot of self-sabotage, but she’s still someone I’d really love to get to know in real life.
This book is a great pick for anyone wishing to expand his or her horizons – geographically, intellectually, etc.