Ugwu feels quite privileged to have been chosen to work for Master. Most people in his small village in Nigeria are not given the opportunity to work for someone who provides such fine quarters, good food, and an education as his Master is offering him. He also has the opportunity to overhear Master’s exuberant discussions with his regular guests, other professors and intellectuals discussing the political upheaval of their time. And as Ugwu helps Master prepare for the coming of Olanna, Master’s love, Ugwu watches change come not only to their household, but to Nigeria itself.
In some ways this is a monumental saga, portraying one family’s experience of the devastating Nigerian-Biafran war of the late 1960’s. The author is able to illustrate the complexity of the war – the tribalism, the massacres that preceded the war, the sheer indifference with which the world treated those who were starving to death. In other ways, there is something missing, something somewhat detached in the writing that keeps the reader just this side of being fully invested in the story. With the exception of Ugwu, who has a sweetness and a naivety to him, most of the characters have a chilliness that seem to keep not only the reader but even each other at bay.
This is not an easy book to read but I’m so glad I did. I think you will be too.
Ifemelu is a young Nigerian woman who, after 15 years in the U.S. is making her way back home to Nigeria. She has always been outspoken and has found blogging to be a surprisingly lucrative outlet for her poignant observations and strong opinions about race and racism here. Something is missing, though, and she finds that she cannot deny her urge to return home to Nigeria. As she prepares to leave, she arranges to get her hair braided and as she does she reminisces to herself about the significant relationships in her life — the love of her life Obinze, her other romantic explorations, her Aunty Uju and her dear nephew Dike — and it seems to fortify her for her journey home.
This is an elegantly written book with a lot of content. It is a story about life in Nigeria; the struggle of the immigrant in a foreign land; and class, gender and race relations and tensions — I felt that I learned a lot about Nigerian culture and life there. Ifemelu is also an exceedingly honest, blunt character who gives voice to the idea that racism has not been conquered but rather there is a pervasive anger that it exists at all. Her character gives a sympathetic means of expressing these ideas and you can see from where they emanate. The story is also overwhelmingly a love story, with a romantic tension that stretches through the whole book. In this there is a universality about the book that any reader can relate to.
I think this is a beautiful story that has enormous weight and depth to it. It is long, but each page is full of meaning.