Insightful and illuminating.

THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK

STORIES

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.

Pub Date: June 26, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-27107-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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