As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Nigeria at the time is under military dictatorship, and people are seeking to leave the country. Ifemelu departs for the United States to study. Through her experiences in relationships and studies, she struggles with the experience of racism in American culture, and the many varieties of racial distinctions. Obinze, son of a professor, had hoped to join her in the US but he is denied a visa after 9/11. He goes to London, eventually becoming an undocumented immigrant after his visa expires.
Years later, Obinze returns to Nigeria and becomes a wealthy man as a property developer in the newly democratic country. Ifemelu gains success in the United States, where she becomes known for her blog about race in America, entitled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, the two must consider the viability of reviving a relationship in light of their diverging experiences during their many years apart.