But his mannered English bothered her as she got older, because it was costume, his shield against insecurity.

This quotation appears in Chapter 3, during a description of Ifemelu’s father. Ifemelu’s father is a civil servant who was unable to attend university because he had to work to provide for his siblings. He focuses his attention on how his life could have been instead of how it actually is, including by using extremely formal English to mask his lack of a university education. As Ifemelu gets older, this formal English annoys her because she recognizes it as her father’s desire to be someone else instead of embracing who he is and living in the present.

He calmed her. With him, she could feel whatever she felt, and she did not have to force some cheer into her voice, as she did with her parents, telling them she was very fine, very hopeful to get a waitress job, settling down very well with her classes.

This quotation appears in Chapter 13, describing Ifemelu’s feelings about calling home to Nigeria when she first immigrates to America. When she talks to her parents, she feels compelled to lie so as not to worry or upset them. With Obinze, who has always made Ifemelu feel safe in her honesty, she can talk about her struggles. This quotation highlights the exhausting effort of living a lie. Even though what she tells Obinze isn’t happy, she feels better after saying it because it’s reality.

The verve was gone. She did not recognize herself. She left the salon almost mournfully; while the hairdresser had flat-ironed the ends, the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died, had made her feel a sense of loss.

This quotation appears in Chapter 19 after Ifemelu gets her hair professionally relaxed for a job interview. Throughout the novel, Ifemelu’s move toward embracing her natural hair symbolizes her desire to live a life authentic to her true self. Ifemelu here has relaxed her hair specifically for a job interview in America. The implication is that America will not easily accept her unless she smooths her natural self. Although Ifemelu has not yet understood this point, her sorrow at seeing her straight hair hints that Ifemelu hates having to change who she is to get by.

But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.

This quotation comes from Chapter 42, as Obinze tries to figure out why Ifemelu hasn’t contacted him again after saying that she’s returning to Nigeria. In this chapter, Obinze takes stock of his life with Kosi as they tour a potential school for Buchi. Obinze feels his life with Kosi is designed to present themselves in a socially impressive light. Obinze doesn’t enjoy Facebook for its inauthenticity, hinting that his marriage with Kosi is similarly unsatisfying.

It was barely a week since she first saw him but already she was angry, furious that he would drop her off and go home to his other life, his real life, and that she could not visualize the details of that life, did not know what kind of bed he slept in, what kind of plate he ate from.

This quotation comes from Chapter 52 just after Ifemelu suggests she and Obinze have sex for the first time after their reunion. Here she expresses her frustration with the situation she finds herself in. Because Obinze is married, any romantic relationship they pursue together will be an affair, a parallel life for Obinze. This moment makes it clear that Ifemelu will never be satisfied with being someone’s secret. Rather, if she and Obinze are to be together, it must be out in the open, an expression of the truth of their feelings.