This is the first multi-generational novel I read that was set in Puerto Rico. The author condensed a lot into her characters and at times I felt it was rushed in order to cover a lot of ground and at times I thought she relied on the familiarities of broad history to create the personalities of her characters. But overall, I enjoyed being swept across time and the magic of their lives and gifts. It is a coming of age story for each of the 5 generations of women. It starts somewhere in West Africa with a village raid in 1800’s and sweeps across to Puerto Rico to New York and back to Puerto Rico and coming full circle to West Africa. It is a story of the responsibilities of the gifts we inherit and the victories and consequences of using them. I recommended it to my 21 year old daughter to read during Kwanzaa. She, however, selected a book by Walter Mosely.
A book of short stories from a young Nigerian. I don’t read many short stories…with J. California Cooper and ZZ Packer being the most memorable of the few I’ve read.
In looking for patterns in the writing that unite all the stories, it seemed to me that the stories lean on themes of identity and personal values and expectations thread the stories. The author juxtaposes contemporary life in Nigeria and life in America to explore these themes. The stories are situational narratives of individuals but with very little focus on character development and more on observation and experiences that unfold mostly through “a telling” than dialogue.
The ending of the stories seemed abrupt but maybe that is the nature of the short stories. It was if the characters just seem to suddenly get up and make their exit which left me uneasy. Without much character development, I can’t say that I became drawn into the stories and when I did it was in the stories where Adichie increased her use of dialogue between characters.
Overall I found the stories a little formulaic and predictable. My favorites from the collection of 12 were A Private Experience about 2 women in Nigeria from seperate ethnicities/religions/class who find themselves taking overnight shelter together during a violent uprising; Ghosts, about a retired university professor observing the downfallen state of his country compared the hope and vigor of his younger years and who finds comfort in the visitations by his deceased wife; The American Embassy, about a Nigerian woman seeking to apply for a visa through the Nigerian lottery system and the indifferences she experiences with the process. The Shivering, about the becoming of friends between two Nigerian students at Princeton.
The most intense stories where Ndichie used less diaglogue and more situational telling are Tomorrow is Too Far (about sibling rivalry and secrets kept) and The Headstrong Historian (about parental sacrifice and love, wayward children and how spirits will find their way back home). Her use of narrative is the most intriguing and better developed.
Because nothing in this book compelled me to say “keep it”, I’m debating whether to bookcross it…something I haven’t done in a very long while. Maybe I’ll donate it to a local senior citizen group or youth group.