“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself.”
So. This book took me for-ev-er to finish. Over a month in fact. Normally, for me, that indicates that I don’t really like the book. In this case, that is only partly true. And before you jump down my throat, hear me out.
The first three quarters of this book were incredibly slowly-paced, and I tend to read right before I go to bed. So, sleepy me plus slow book equals not a great combination. However, during that slowly-paced adventure, the main character in this novel, Ifemelu (Ifem), goes through quite an incredible journey.
You may already know this, but the book begins just before the end. Ifem is in the States and is preparing to move back to Nigeria. Then the book jumps backward in time to when Ifem was growing up in Nigeria. Her transition to the States was not easy at all. She faced many hardships, and I don’t think she ever truly felt she belonged. Having never been an ex-pat, I have no idea what it must feel like to try to make somewhere foreign feel like home. To adjust to new customs, new foods, new language. On top of that, Ifem could not work legally and her money problems were no joke. It’s amazing that she didn’t completely implode under all that pressure. Eventually she finds her feet and starts a blog about race. It’s incredibly popular, and she’s able to make a living writing and giving talks at universities.
As much as I was impressed by her character, I was often disappointed. It seemed like her whole worth was wrapped up in her relationships. And that was just irritating.
The meat of the book starts with Ifemelu’s relationship with Blaine. At this point we start to read the majority of Ifem’s blog posts. The blog posts really elevate this work for me. They get at the heart of her experience as an immigrant and as a black woman — of what it means to have to deal with race/ the way someone looks every single day. That is something I, as a white woman, will never fully understand. But it is something I can be more aware of and not shy away from, as I think many white people are inclined to do.
There’s a point in the book where Ifem is talking about how no one wants to talk about race, and that is so true. It’s uncomfortable and we all shove it down. I know I’ve avoided it before, but that doesn’t help anything. Avoidance never solves anything.
Here is a quote from the section of the book I mentioned above:
And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.
I hope to the gods that I’m never one of these “nice liberal friends”. I never want a friend of mine to feel uncomfortable talking about something that matters to them, makes them uncomfortable, makes them upset.
Let’s keep the conversation going. But on top of that, let’s be active participants in the things we believe in.
This book is insightful, and it’s certainly a conversation starter. It’s more than worth the read, even if it is slow. 🙂
I read this as part of the Read Harder 2017 Challenge, #5 read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative, and I also read it in one of my Goodreads groups, Diversity in All Forms.
2017 Read Harder Challenge Stats: 7/24