Ifemelu doesn't shy away from controversy. An only child of middle-class parents, she always says what she means, even when it might get her into trouble. She always feels a little out of place at her private secondary school, but she gets good grades and hangs out with the popular kids. Ifemelu never thought she would visit the United States, much less move there, but she does just that during her second year of university. She ends up staying for 13 years. Curious and intelligent, Ifemelu is mystified by the intricacies of race in America and starts an anonymous blog about race from the perspective of a non-American black person. As she says in her blog, she didn't consider herself black until she moved to the United States.
Obinze has a calm and steady personality. He doesn't call attention to himself or ask for recognition. Since he was small, Obinze's goal has been to live in the United States. When Ifemelu moves there they make plans for him to join her in a few years. This doesn't work out, and he ends up in England, where he tries to get by after his visa expires. When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, Obinze can't stand to be apart from her. Love and a shared history draw him to Ifemelu, but he's held back by his marriage and sense of responsibility. People do not regularly divorce in Nigeria, and he has a duty to his wife. But Obinze also realizes he has a duty to himself. He hasn't been happy in a long, long time, perhaps since Ifemelu first left. This is his chance.
Aunty Uju is technically the daughter of Ifemelu's father's brother, but she has always been like an aunt to Ifemelu. Uju is 10 years older than Ifemelu, and when Ifemelu was young Aunty Uju was the only person who could console and talk some sense into her. Aunty Uju is subdued by life in the United States. Working three jobs and studying for her medical exams, she has little money or patience. Little by little, she climbs out of poverty and into a modestly successful life, first by passing her medical exams and then by marrying a fellow Nigerian immigrant. By the time that marriage ends, she is able to provide a comfortable life for herself and her son, Dike. As her anger dissipates, she begins volunteering overseas and dating a kind and gentle immigrant from Ghana.
Dike is the son of Aunty Uju and The General, which makes him Ifemelu's nephew. Born in Nigeria, he moved to the United States with his mother shortly after his first birthday. After second or third grade, Dike and Aunty Uju move from Brooklyn to small towns in Massachusetts, where he is generally the only black kid in his class. This takes a toll on Dike, who is automatically blamed for any trouble that happens at school. Aunty Uju never talks about Dike's father. Although she tries to raise him to be Nigerian, Dike is more influenced by American culture. By the time he is in high school, he considers himself to be African American, not African. Dike is always jovial and full of life when Ifemelu visits, so she's extremely surprised when he tries to kill himself. No explanation is given for what led him down that path, but Aunty Uju tells Ifemelu that Dike is depressed. He never talks about what happened to Ifemelu.
Years before they start dating, Blaine and Ifemelu meet on a train to Massachusetts. Ifemelu is immediately taken with him. Blaine's primary purpose in life is to make the world a better place through thoughtful dialogue and compassionate understanding. He is attracted to Ifemelu because of her intelligence and wit, but he is often frustrated that she doesn't share his views on race.
Curt is a software developer from a wealthy white family. He has had a string of "exotic" girlfriends but seems particularly enamored with Ifemelu. Curt leads a charmed life. He's handsome, kind, and has the money and connections necessary to get anything he wants. This is a foreign concept to Ifemelu, who has never had much of either. She is happy and content with Curt, who embodies the vision of America she had before arriving in the United States.