I saw you holding a James Hadley Chase, near the lab. And I said, Ah, correct, there is hope. She reads.

Obinze makes this comment to Ifemelu in Chapter 4 as they have a private conversation at Kayode’s party. Here, he reveals that he had been interested in Ifemelu long before the party in part because he saw her carrying a book. Obinze loves reading and believes it to be a sign of how people’s minds work. Obinze specifically being interested in Ifemelu because she reads characterizes him as intelligent and discerning, someone interested in a girl for her mind as well as her body.

I read American books because America is the future, Mummy.

Obinze says this to his mother in Chapter 5, after she gently teases him for reading American books. As a youth, Obinze is obsessed with America because he is future-focused. He sees America as a place of opportunity and new ideas, as opposed to England, which his mom prefers, which he considers more old-fashioned. Obinze’s America-worship plays a role in Ifemelu’s decision to immigrate, and also in her fear of telling him that she was having a hard time making it in the US.

Why was she writing him now? What was there to tell her, that he cleaned toilets and had only just today encountered a curled turd? How did she know he was still alive? He could have died during their silence and she would not have known. An angry sense of betrayal overwhelmed him.

Obinze has these thoughts in Chapter 24. At this point in the novel, Obinze has illegally immigrated to the UK and cleans toilets for a living. Obinze has reached a low point in his life. Just as Ifemelu felt with the tennis coach, the thought of having to explain to Ifemelu what he has come to only fills him with a sense of shame and failure. Although he mentally blames Ifemelu for his anger, the degrading situation immigration has placed him in is an important factor.

He switched off both his phones. A rare declaration, in a city like Lagos for a man like him, that she had his absolute attention.

This quotation comes from Chapter 51, when Obinze and Ifemelu finally reunite at the Jazzhole. For all of Obinze’s mistakes, when it comes to Ifemelu, he is single-mindedly devoted to her. Almost more so than any words, him turning off his phones signifies that he wants to live in the moment without distractions. As a man who values authenticity, Obinze turning off the phone also suggests a desire to live in life as it is, without an overlay of technology.

He had been keeping a secret that was not even a secret. A multilayered guilt weighed him down, guilt not only for wanting to leave Kosi, but for having married her at all.

Obinze has these thoughts in Chapter 54, when he realizes that Kosi has known all along about his affair with Ifemelu. Obinze’s shame here does not only stem from having cheated, but his realization that he has allowed himself to build a life based on lies and appearance when he values and loves authenticity and truth. By marrying beautiful Kosi who tries to smooth over social awkwardness and rough edges, Obinze has done what would have been the equivalent of choosing Ginika over Ifemelu at Kayode’s party, something his teen self would never have dreamed of.