Vera is 19, black, and female, growing up "landlocked in Oklahoma City." A member of the first generation free to toddle up to desegregated water fountains, she hasn't yet learned how much of racist oppression black people have internalized. Add that to a troublesome relationship with her depressed mother, and typical teenage woes, and we have one strong-willed but confused young lady.
At Oberlin College she finds something to hold on to in the rhetoric of Black Nationalism. The world gets cleanly divided into black and white, and she falls in love with the idea of going "home" to Africa. Head stuffed with romantic notions, she flies off to Sierra Leone, with the blessings of family and Floyd, the boyfriend back home who "ain't going nowhere." Their mantra is her mandate, "You are our eyes."
What follows for Vera in "The Motherland" is a time of wonder and heartbreak, as she learns that though her people are not embraced by America, in Africa she's more American than she ever imagined. She falls in love with Rodney, a well-off Sierra Leonian student, and finds that tying herself to "an African prince" won't make her a princess. Estranged from the African women on campus, she, to her surprise, becomes closest friends with Sally, a diabetic white radical from Hilton Head, South Carolina. Through letters from her mother and Floyd, we see that those relationships are shifting too.
It's a funny and sad journey as Vera leaps and stumbles across the unexplored territory of her own racial, national, and sexual identity with Africa as a backdrop. When she returns to the US, having just turned 20, she's a bit more independent, and has learned that her life can't be negotiated in black and white.
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