Although I'm not a short story fan, I picked this up because Half of a Yellow Sun is a work of genius and so I'm interested in reading anything Adichie writes (Purple Hibiscus is good too, but with some first-novel problems). The stories in this collection are interesting and well-crafted, but left me with some reservations.
There are 12 unrelated, bite-size short stories in the collection; half are set in Nigeria and another five feature Nigerian immigrants in the northeast United States. The subject matter varies: a teenage girl's brother is wrongly arrested and detained; a retired professor waits for a pension that never comes; a well-educated immigrant takes a job as a nanny for an American family and develops a crush on the child's mother. But there are common themes, in particular the tension between Nigerian political and economic realities that impel people to immigrate, and the difficulties they face in a new country. The stories have diverse plots and are well-structured. A few begin with interesting hooks and then fizzle out, but for the most part they feel complete within their brief page counts. At the same time, many seem to contain the seeds of novels (in a couple of cases, novels she's already written), and are interesting enough that I'd be happy to see them expanded.
The character development is mixed. There are some vivid and three-dimensional characters here, a feat given the length of the stories. On the other hand, the protagonists tend to run together. With few exceptions, they're young Igbo women, from either Lagos or Nsukka, moderately Christian, from relatively privileged backgrounds, seemingly intelligent and hardworking but also a bit wishy-washy and self-righteous, who deal with adversity through silent resentment that eventually either explodes or turns into bitterness. Most of them feel like the same person.
The stories here are also less subtle than Adichie's novels, and with an undercurrent of anger; at times the book feels like an enumeration of Things Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Does Not Like, taking aim at everything from embassy personnel to people who think African fiction ought to focus on atrocities to helicopter parents. Sometimes I found the criticisms incisive (the self-satisfied liberal tourist who observes foreign poverty from a position of comfort); other times they seem less justified (why shouldn't a visa interviewer ask an asylum seeker if she has any proof of her claims?). And while there's good and bad to the Nigerian characters, the portrayal of the Americans is mostly negative.
The writing is good, but the simplicity of Adichie's style comes across as more literary in her novels, with their complex characters and well-developed settings; here it sometimes seems just simple. A couple of the stories use the second person, something all literary writers apparently feel the need to attempt; as always, it's distracting, but fortunately those stories are among the shortest.
Despite the problems, this is one of the better short stories collections that I've read, and I enjoyed these more than I generally do short stories. Still, I hope Adichie goes back to writing novels.