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Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
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A-The Thing Around Your NeckBorn and raised in Nigeria, novelist and Macarthur "genius grant" recipient Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has captivated the literary world with her vivid stories of African families trying to survive through political, religious, and social instability. Her award-winning short stories, 12 of which are collected here, have appeared in the New Yorker, Financial Times, and Granta. Recently reviewed: Half of a Yellow Sun ( 4.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006)

The Story: Whether they cope with civil war in their native Nigeria or wrestle with the awkwardness and incongruities of life as American immigrants, the narrators of these stories attempt to breach the isolation and anguish of lives narrowed by cultural and religious forces. Two women from opposing factions hide together during a riot. A woman whose arranged marriage has provided her with wealth and ease in America discovers her husband's secret life. A young girl reveals the unexpected effect prison has had on her spoiled, dissolute brother. A nanny becomes obsessed with her American employer. Each story sheds light on this little-known and misunderstood, but extraordinary, corner of the world.
Knopf. 218 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307271075

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In the dozen stories in her most recent book ... Adichie writes with great sensitivity of the struggles of Nigerian immigrants to forge an identity in the modern world without discarding the values of their culture of origin. ... Whether they live in Nigeria or the U.S., the women in Adichie's stories do not have it easy." Conan Putnam

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Many of the stories involve Nigerian women caught between old country customs and new world ways, whether in their home country or as immigrants to America. Adichie, whose prose is both precise and evocative, gracefully shows us how the particulars of their experiences fit into the universal struggles of women the world over." Carole Goldberg

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"This young Nigerian writer proves herself worthy of the challenge [of packing a full world into a few paragraphs], building a rich, Nigeria-centric universe in both broad and subtle strokes. ... [The] cumulative effect for an American reading them-an American with a BBC knowledge of Nigeria-is a history lesson injected with emotional immediacy." Maggie Galehouse

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Slightly regrettably, compared with the Nigerian characters, some of their American counterparts seem less fully realized and less memorable, as if they had been given the roles to play the Americans; one wishes that a storyteller like Adichie could have shed more light on the Americans from her perspective. ... Together these stories once again prove that Adichie is one of those rare writers that any country or any continent would feel proud to claim as its own." Yiyun Li

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The distilled world of the short story suits her beautifully: She shows a rare talent for finding the images and gestures that etch a narrative moment unforgettably in the reader's memory. ... There are a couple of pieces that aren't as strong as the rest, but on the whole this is a very solid collection, with several exquisite stories that will take you to places you didn't know existed." Mary Brennan

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Adichie is a stylist of deceptively effortless grace who seems to manipulate language almost invisibly, so that it is only later that her careful craftsmanship becomes apparent. ... If there are flaws in the collection they are minor faults of structure-a couple of stories simply stop, rather than reaching a conclusion, while the compression of the final narrative, 'The Headstrong Historian', is so intense that it feels as though it should have been allowed to blossom into something longer." Jane Shilling

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Though there are faint notes of optimism, overall these are melancholy stories, of disappointment and endurance rather than hope. ... However, some of the stories in this collection fall short of the acuity and accomplishment of her novels, so that one wonders if they perhaps come from an earlier period in Adichie's writing and have been dusted off for this collection." Aminatta Forna

Critical Summary

A country famously known to the West for its e-mail scams, Nigeria is indebted to Adichie for these graceful and evocative stories that portray it as the rich and diverse nation it truly is. They also demonstrate her keen insight into the rough terrain of human nature beset by external demands and pressures. Adichie, compared to a "hostess" (San Francisco Chronicle) who invites her achingly believable characters fully formed into her stories, treats her protagonists-mostly women-with respect and compassion. A few minor complaints included less-convincing American characters and some awkward endings, but all critics recognized Adichie as an accomplished storyteller whose careful study of her native land illuminates its foreignness as well as the similarities between us all.

Also by the Author

Purple Hibiscus (2002): A teenaged girl from a wealthy Nigerian family conceals a terrible secret: her father, a highly respected businessman, is really an abusive tyrant who has mistreated his family for years. When a widowed aunt takes an interest in the girl, the family-and her father's carefully constructed public image-threaten to come undone.