The narrative now follows Obinze, who has been in London for two years now. He is an illegal immigrant, as his visa has expired. He watches people at the subway station and thinks of how fortunate they all are to be “legal” and “visible.” He has met two Angolan men who are going to arrange a green-card marriage for him, but he has to pay them more than two thousand pounds.
Obinze’s experience in England is not nearly as successful as Ifemelu’s is in America. This section focuses on the theme of identity, as Obinze feels invisible as an illegal immigrant, and it also allows Adichie to observe and critique English culture.
A few days later Obinze meets Cleotilde, the young woman he is supposed to marry. He is surprised at how pretty and innocent-looking she is. She seems surprised to see Obinze as well, and soon Obinze realizes that she is attracted to him. They discuss their business transaction, awkwardly shepherded along by the Angolans, and then Obinze gives her his phone number.
Obinze doesn’t find a “Curt” to make a few calls and get him a green card. He has to take the difficult route and work menial jobs to save up and pay an EU citizen to marry him—which will make him a legal citizen.
Obinze and Cleotilde meet up again later, this time without the Angolans, and Cleotilde gets more dressed up. They eat dinner and talk about their homelands—Cleotilde is Portuguese but has an Angolan father. They are clearly both attracted to each other, but make an unspoken decision to wait until the marriage is over to become romantically connected. They meet more over the following weeks, and the sexual tension between them continues to grow. Obinze trusts Cleotilde, and knows she won’t cheat him out of any money. She tells him that the Angolans only gave her five hundred pounds out of the two thousand.
This planned green-card marriage is made more interesting by the fact that Obinze and Cleotilde find themselves attracted to each other, so there is a romantic element to what is basically a business transaction. The Angolans can take most of the money in their business dealings arranging marriages for illegal immigrants, for they know just how helpless their clients are without them.
The Angolans take care of all the documents, and a mysterious man named “Brown” gives Obinze his driver’s license. A few days later Obinze brings his license to register for the marriage. He hears someone in the office complaining that all the marriages being registered are “shams,” and he is suddenly afraid. But the registrar offers his congratulations. Obinze looks at a whiteboard with scheduled marriage dates on it and sees a name he recognizes from his high school in Nigeria.
Adichie doesn’t spend as much time narrating the story in England as she does in America and Nigeria, but the main focus of her cultural criticism for England (and all of Western Europe by extension) is the widespread fear of black and brown immigrants.
The sight of the Nigerian name makes Obinze feel melancholy, and makes him think of his mother. She had always been sad about her professor friends leaving Nigeria, which made Obinze feel guilty about his own lifelong dream of moving to America. Ever since he was a child, Obinze had imagined America as the place where everything was better, and he had never wanted to go anywhere else.
Obinze’s story, like Ifemelu’s, is told in a roundabout manner, so Adichie begins after two years in England and then gives earlier details of Obinze’s life through memories and flashbacks. Obinze had idealized America much more than Ifemelu had.
After he graduated university, Obinze had applied for an American visa, but he was denied many times. His mother said it was the American fear of terrorism that made them not want foreign young men. He had then taken a year and lived with his mother, trying to find a job, but inexplicably failing despite his degree. One day his mother told him that she had been invited to an academic conference in London, and she was going to put him down as her “research assistant,” which would get him a six-month visa.
The September 11 terrorist attacks have far-reaching effects, as they set off a new fear of young foreign men who might be terrorists. This lingers in the fear of immigrants (mostly Muslims) in Europe even years later. Obinze had longed to be an American much more than Ifemelu had, but he is denied the chance she is given.
Obinze’s mother said he should take this opportunity to see what he could do in England. Obinze recognized what a big deal this was for her, as she never lied or compromised her morals about anything. But she had lied for him, and so he felt even more pressure to succeed. He hadn’t contacted her often once he came to England, because he wanted to wait until he had good news to give her. Later he would feel guilty about how rarely they had talked, and how estranged they had become through his silence.
Adichie has commented elsewhere on this tendency of immigrants to paint a rosier picture of their lives to their families back home. Because the Western countries are idealized as so much better, when immigrants experience the disappointing reality they don’t want to disappoint their relatives as well. This is another powerful separation and silence of the book.