A dozen stories about the lives of Nigerians at home and in America from the winner of the Orange Broadband Prize.
In the five tales set in the United States, Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun, 2006, etc.) profiles characters both drawn to America and cautious of assimilation. “Imitation” centers on Nkem, who lives with her two Americanized children in a large house in the Philadelphia suburbs filled with reproductions of tribal masks (the originals are in British museums). Her husband visits from Nigeria for only a few months each year, and when she hears he has moved his girlfriend into their Lagos house, Nkem begins to consider the authenticity of her American life, wondering if it’s too late to go home. In “The Arrangers of Marriage,” a young woman arrives in New York with her brand-new husband, who seemed fine on paper but proves not to be quite what he claimed. Ofodile is not yet a doctor, just an intern; their “house” is a sparsely furnished apartment in Flatbush; and Dave, as he prefers to be called, has fairly stringent ideas of what it takes to be American, like no sugar in tea and no spicy smells polluting their hallway. The very fine “Jumping Monkey Hill” and the title story both show Nigerian women confronting white expectations. In the first, Ujunwa has won a stay at a writer’s retreat outside Cape Town. The organizer, a British Africanist, has his own ideas as to what constitutes authentic African writing—lesbians are out, revolution is in—and does not like her tale of feminist struggle in Lagos. “The Thing Around Your Neck” refers to loneliness, which nearly chokes a young immigrant woman working as a waitress in Connecticut, but even as she feels its grip loosening, she remains wary of her new American boyfriend, “because white people who like Africa too much and those who like Africa too little were the same—condescending.”
Insightful and illuminating.