"Affecting . . . The Africa in Adichie's collection isn't the Africa that Americans are familiar with from TV news or newspaper headlines. Her stories are not about civil war or government corruption or deadly illnesses. She is interested in how clashes between tradition and modernity, familial expectations and imported dreams affect relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children.
In these stories, which take place in Nigeria and the United States, questions of belonging and loyalty are multiplied several times over. Her characters, many of whom grew up in Nigeria and emigrated (or saw their relatives emigrate) to America, find themselves unmoored, many stumbling into danger or confusion. Rather than becoming cosmopolitan members of a newly globalized world, they tend to feel dislocated on two continents and caught on the margins of two cultures that are themselves in a rapid state of flux. . . . The most powerful stories in this volume depict immensely complicated, conflicted characters, many of [whom] have experienced the random perils of life firsthand. . . . Adichie demonstrates that she is adept at conjuring the unending personal ripples created by political circumstance, at conjuring both the 'hard, obvious' facts of history, and 'the soft, subtle things that lodge themselves into the soul.'"
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Haunting . . . In the first of these 12 stories set in Nigeria and the U. S., a spoiled college student doing a stint in a Nigerian prison finds he can't keep silent when the police harass an elderly inmate. In another, what seems like an excellent arranged marriage is doomed once the bride joins her husband in Brooklyn and learns he's an overbearing bore. And for the lonely narrator of the title story, falling in love means 'the thing that wrapped itself around your neck, that nearly choked you before you fell asleep, ' is finally loosened. Adichie, a Nigerian who has studied in the U. S., writes with wisdom and compassion about her countrymen's experiences as foreigners, both in America and in their changing homeland. Here is one of fiction's most compelling new voices."
-Vick Boughton, People,
"Imagine how hard it must be to write stories that make American readers understand what it might be like to visit a brother in a Nigerian jail, to be the new bride in an arranged marriage, to arrive in Flatbush from Lagos to meet a husband or to hide in a basement, waiting for a riot to subside, wondering what happened to a little sister who let go of your hand when you were running. How would it feel to be a woman who smuggled her journalist husband out of Nigeria one day and had her 4-year-old son shot by government thugs the next? If reading stories can make you feel . . . caught between two worlds and frightened, what would it be like to live them? This is Adichie's third book, and it is fascinating. . . . Characters (many in their teens and early 20s) feel a yanking on invisible collars as they try to strike out on their own. Sometimes, ties are cut by distance, leaving a protagonist disoriented and alone . . . Sometimes a lie or a death cuts the lines of trust that tie a character to the world they inhabit. Most of Adichie's characters are alone, adrift in a strange physical or emotional landscape. . . . These characters feel invisible, erased. They can't go home. They want to melt into America. What would it be like to feel that sinister thing, memory, around your neck? Perhaps you can imagine after all."
--Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Don't let Adichie's highbrow resume scare you away from her accessible and compelling short-story collection. Yes, the 31-year-old Nigerian writer won a 2008 MacArthur Genius award. But unlike many literary authors, she eschews pretentious obscurity in favor of clarity. In these stories set both in Nigeria and in the USA, she touches on religion, corruption, Nigeria's civil war and living in America as a lonely African wife. Mostly, however, she creates indelible characters who jump off the page and into your head and heart."
-Deirdre Donahue, USA Today
"Wonderfully crafted . . . Prose this skillful deserves international acclaim. Insightful, powerful and brimming with characters that seem to leap from the printed page, this collection is nothing less than a literary feast."
--Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
"The tensions embodied in [the story 'Jumping Monkey Hill']--between fiction and autobiography, the expectations of the observer and the experience of the witness, not to mention the value of certain experiences in the global literary marketplace--practically seep through the pages of this collection. As a whole it traces the journey Adichie herself has taken. . . . All [her] personhoods are represented here: the sheltered child, the vulnerable immigrant in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the foreign student adrift in a dormitory in Princeton, the young African writer asked to objectify herself for an uncomprehending audience. . . . 'Ghosts, ' in which an elderly professor in Nsukka meets an old colleague he assumed had died in the Biafran war, is a nearly perfect story, distilling a lifetime's weariness and wicked humor into a few pages. 'Tomorrow Is Too Far, ' a kind of ghostless ghost story, delves beautifully into the layers of deception around a young boy's accidental death . . . And there is a whole suite of stories in which Adichie calmly eviscerates the pretensions of Westerners whose interest in Africa masks an acquisitive, self-flattering venality. . . . Adichie is keenly aware of the particular burdens that come with literary success for an immigrant writer, a so-called hyphenated American. Though she strikes a tricky balance--exposing, while also at times playing on, her audience's prejudices--one comes away from The Thing Around Your Neck
heartened by her self-awareness and unpredictability. She knows what it means to sit at the table, and also what it takes to walk away."
--Jess Row, The New York Times Book Review
"Adichie belongs to the rare group of young writers whose wisdom sets them apart from writers of their age. . . . The Thing Around Your Neck
once again showcases her insights into human nature under social, ethical, cultural as well as personal dilemmas. . . . In her notes about novel writing, Elizabeth Bowen emphasized both the unpredictability and the inevitability of a character's actions. Adichie' s best stories are perfect examples of her masterful perception of these seemingly conflicting qualities within human nature. I hesitate to use 'create, ' as Adichie' s characters don't feel as though they were merely created; rather, it is as if they were invited into the stories by the most understanding hostess, and their dilemmas, pains and secrets were then related to us by the hostess, who seems to understand the characters better than they understand themselves, who does not judge them, and who treats them with respect and love and empathy that perhaps they would never have allowed themselves to imagine. . . . Reading ['On Monday of Last Week'] is like taking a journey of having one's heart broken in a foreign land, yet it is not the foreignness of the land that brings the pain but the foreignness in any human heart. . . In this and a few other stories about Nigerian women who have found themselves in America, Adichie transcends the norm of immigrants' stories and give the characters complexities that would be absent in a less masterful storyteller. . . . 'The Headstrong Historian, ' a story that encompasses four generations of women (and men), achieves what a short story rarely does, with a symphonic quality that one would only hope to see in a master's stories, like those of Tolstoy. . . . 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, San Francisco Chronicle
"Haunting . . . Adichie deploys her calm, deceptive prose to portray women in Nigeria and America who are forced to match their wits against threats ranging from marauding guerillas to microwave ovens. . . . The devastating final piece, 'The Headstrong Historian, ' seems to carry the whole history of a continent in its bones: tragic, defiant, revelatory."
-Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
"Like those of Jhumpa Lahiri, whose work bears a notable resemblance to Adichie's, the characters of The Thing Around Your Neck
are caught between past and present, original and adopted homelands. . . . America is a land of yoga classes, drive-through banks, and copious supermarket carts, but it is also a surprisingly unsatisfactory promised land . . . a place where half-truths and buried secrets that form a life are ruthlessly exposed. [Here also is] Nigerian life seen from the outside: the perspective of the American immigrant, the memory tourist, the second-class gender. They are the stories of those whose tales are not told. Adichie deftly accesses the privileged mindsets of her Nigerian characters, who stubbornly insist on believing that they are to be protected from the worst. . . . Her Americans are outsiders clamoring to be let into society; her upper-class Nigerians are insiders clamoring to be let out of history. 'It would have been so easy for him, ' [one] narrator observes on the occasion of her brother's release from prison, 'to make a sleek drama of his story, but he did not.' Nor does Adichie, who prefers ambiguity, and a certain abruptness of tone, to the carefully raked garden paths of other writers. . . . Whether these stories reflect the writer's own experiences, only Adichie knows. That they reflect the lives of her countrymen, there can be no doubt."
-Saul Austerlitz, Boston Sunday Globe
"There are various ways writers can be ambitious, but in our era they are often judged to be so only if their prose is complex, elusive, and somewhat arcane. The Nigerian writer Adichie is an exception to this 'rule.' She's a deeply ambitious and justly celebrated writer whose prose is lucid and whose narrative method is simple and straightforward. Indeed, the 12 clearly told tales that make up The Thing Around Your Neck
resonate powerfully because of their thematic depth and their author's ability to understand and reveal her characters. [The collection] explores the frequently troubled lives of Nigerians in their native country as well as those trying to adapt to life in America. Often these stories involve a conflict between personal fulfillment and political commitment and/or fidelity to one's roots. . . . The theme of the displaced African, confused and alienated in America in an almost Alice in Wonderland
-like way, recurs in a number of these stories. . . . While Adichie's vision of America is often bitterly comic and sometimes scathing, she is equally, if not more, critical of the injustice and violence that pervades Nigeria. 'Cell One, ' for example, is a kind of broken family romance told from the daughter's point of view that centers on the increasingly dangerous behavior of her 17-year-old brother. [It] is, perhaps, the most successful instance of Adichie' s enriching her story by adding a social dimension to it, maintaining all the while a fine balance between the personal and political. . . . While many of her characters are suffused with sorrow, they also generally evolve enough to make decisions that can help their lives. . . . For Adichie, hope lies in taking action, as indeed she herself did in writing this poignant, compelling book."
-Richard Burgin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Wicked . . . While [Adichie's] work is never without its political undertones--can any novel about Africa ever be entirely apolitical?--her primary purpose is literary, not doctrinal. Her work does not buckle under its political burden, but supports it with a great humanity. . . . Adichie excels at the depiction of complicated relationships, familial and romantic . . . Many of the stories [in The Thing Around Your Neck
] focus on recent immigrants--young women who have come to America for different reasons, usually romantic--who must negotiate sexual politics along with cultural politics. The gulf between expectations and realities among these characters is unsurprising . . . But Adichie reveals it in unexpected ways, in a language that preserves the African-ness of her characters while adding their stories to the long history of immigrants in America. . . . These characters are close enough to American society to observe it well, but distant enough to maintain a mordant and sometimes biting perspective. . . .[Adichie's] language is recognizably Chinua Achebe's: the transposition of Igbo expressions and proverbs into English, the dispassionate portrayal of both traditional religion and Christianity. And the message as well: the reclamation of African culture from colonialist writers whose texts were predicated on racist assumptions, subtle or blatant, and from an educational system in which children read stories depicting members of their own race as uncultured savages, and Europeans as the bears of wisdom. But Adichie has gone beyond, or away from, Achebe in an important way: she is optimistic. She may have grown up on Enid Blyton, but in her lifetime, she has already seen things that fall apart begin to come back together." --Ruth Franklin, The New Republic
"Powerful . . . Arresting. The distilled world of the short story suits Adichie beautifully: She shows a rare talent for finding the images and gestures that etch a narrative moment unforgettably in the reader's memory. . . . Many of the characters in the book divide their time between Nigeria and the United States. A very solid collection, [one that] resonates with an aching undercurrent of dislocation and loss of identity. . . Exquisite stories that will take you to places you didn' t know existed."
-Mary Brennan, The Seattle Times
"Powerful, deftly assembled . . . Adichie's gifts as a storyteller [are all] on display . . . The backgrounds of her characters may initially seem exotic to Western readers. And yet the love, justice, and understanding they seek are so fundamental and familiar that there are few readers of any background who won't recognize acres-perhaps even miles-of common ground. Here, Adichie's characters are as likely to inhabit Hartford or Princeton as they are Nsukka or Lagos. . . . But all in some way are in a state of loss. . . . For most of them, there is a loss of wholeness, thrust upon them by both the discomfort of their own country and the powerful pull of Western culture, into whose orbit they seem constantly to be sucked, whether they have ever actually set foot outside Nigeria or not. . . . Adichie's gift to readers in this book is to give voice to some of the forms of Nigerian heartbreak that Westerners might not otherwise hear. But despite the deep hurt that ripples through these stories, the characters never shout out their sadness. If they are alive, they know they are fortunate. If they are sad, they hold it within. Wisely, Adichie mostly keeps away from politics. Her stories are not a condemnation of the West or the US. Instead, Adichie gives us what a first-rate writer ...