March 18, 2013

"Checking Out"

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
~7300 words

A Nigerian man living in London on an expired visa agrees to an arranged marriage to legalize his immigration status.

At home in Nigeria, Obinze Maduewesi dreams of immigrating to America. After several humiliating denials of his visa application, he accompanies his mother to a conference in London as her "research assistant." When his six-month visa runs out, he resorts to cleaning toilets and moving refrigerators under a usurped U.K. identity. He pays a pair of shady Angolans to arrange his marriage to a British citizen, offering him the promise of permanent legal residence, but on the day of the ceremony his illegal status is discovered, resulting in his arrest and imminent deportation.

The story does a good job of portraying the life of illegal immigrants in the U.K., but I feel that it veers into clichés that should be avoided. Cleaning toilets and moving refrigerators are jobs that almost everyone envisions immigrants carrying out; they feel unoriginal even if they are accurate. Another issue is that Obinze as a character is too virtuous—he has no flaws except possibly overachievement—and his exploitation is too predictable. What is set up as a tragic ending feels more like stale melodrama, unredeemed by the author's competent but unexceptional command of language.

"Checking Out" passes muster as a hard-luck immigrant's tale, but it pales in comparison to Zadie Smith's "The Embassy of Cambodia," which tells a similar story with much greater complexity.


Reader poll: I found "Checking Out" to be ___.

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