Chapters 1–4 Summary

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1331

Chapter 1

Ifemelu waits at the train station to go to Trenton because there is no braiding salon in Princeton, New Jersey. She imagines speaking to her fellow passengers and telling them that she writes a blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. A few days ago, she wrote the blog’s final post. 

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On the train, Ifemelu ponders the “cement in her soul.” She has a fellowship at Princeton and has lived with her boyfriend, Blaine, for three years, but she is homesick for her native Nigeria, where Obinze, her first love, lives. He is now a husband and father, and Ifemelu has not spoken to him in years. Increasingly, now, she feels layers of discontent piling on her and an awareness that “Nigeria [was] where she was supposed to be,” prompting her plans to return to Lagos. 

In Trenton, Ifemelu takes a taxi to the hair braiding salon, where a woman named Aisha will braid Ifemelu’s hair. The salon’s owner asks Ifemelu if she is from Nigeria; when Ifemelu replies affirmatively, the woman says that she and her sister are from Mali and Aisha is from Senegal. In a moment of “warm knowingness,” the women acknowledge their shared Africanness. 

Aisha and Ifemelu disagree about the color and tightness of Ifemelu’s new braids, and Ifemelu begins thinking about everyone in her life who doesn’t understand why she’s leaving America to return to Nigeria. Aisha asks if Ifemelu is Yoruba, but Ifemelu identifies as Igbo. Aisha confesses that she is in a relationship with two different Igbo men and wants to marry one of them, but “Igbo [only] marry Igbo.” When Aisha asks Ifemelu how long she’s been in America, Ifemelu responds, “Fifteen years,” earning Aisha’s respect. Aisha tells Ifemelu that she needs to speak to Aisha’s boyfriends and tell them that they are allowed to marry women who are not Igbo. Ifemelu imagines that her current predicament would make for a good post on her blog.

Chapter 2

In Nigeria, Obinze, riding in the back of his Range Rover, receives an email from Ifemelu explaining that she is moving back to Nigeria. They have not communicated since Obinze went on his honeymoon; then, they exchanged stiffly formal emails in which Ifemelu addressed him as “Obinze” instead of her pet name for him, “Ceiling,” which she uses in this most recent email. Back in secondary school, when she first let him take off her bra, she told him, “My eyes were open but I did not see the ceiling,” and thus the word now connotes their intimacy. 

When Obinze arrives home to his impressive house, he is greeted by his wife, Kosi, and his daughter, Buchi. Obinze and Kosi will attend a gathering at Chief’s house this evening. Obinze first met Chief when he returned to Lagos after “what had happened to him in England.” Recognizing that Obinze is a “hungry and honest man,” Chief hired Obinze to manage the purchase of several multi-million dollar properties, and Obinze’s career took off with an ease that “had dazed him.” As he was building a life of luxury for himself, Obinze occasionally wondered if Chief would ask him “to organize an assasination.” For now, he feels “a hollow space between himself and the person he was supposed to be” as he regularly engages in multimillion-dollar business deals. 

At the party, the women discuss the best schools for their children to attend, praising the British and French curricula and scorning the Nigerian curriculum. Chief enters the room and the guests cluster around him. Obinze passes the evening by crafting a reply to Ifemelu’s email in his head. He is uncomfortable with how people perceive him now that he has membership “in the wealthy club,” despite the fact that he does not flaunt his wealth....

(The entire section contains 1331 words.)

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Chapters 5–11 Summary