Monday, January 11, 2010

40. “The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie



Year of first publication: 2009
Genre: collection of short stories
Country: Nigeria (but some stories are set in the USA and one in South Africa)

What it’s all about: This is a collection of twelve short stories, set in Nigeria and in the USA. The protagonists are all Nigerians, but their backgrounds and lives s are very different, ranging from experiences of war and riots in the author’s home country to the immigrant experience in America. Adichie’s stories often feature young women and their everyday epiphanies, tackling themes such as the brutality of war, colonialism, family relationships, the immigrant experience and the miscomprehensions between husband and wife.

Some thoughts: Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I’m not particularly fond of short stories. There is not much time to develop the characters in a story, consequently only good writers are able to say something really clever in just a few pages. Adichie is one of them: the stories are cleverly constructed, involving and offer a wide range of complex characters. Without any doubts, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the most talented young African writers around. However, my favourite works by Adichie remain her two novels, Half of a Yellow Sun especially.
In “A Private Experience” an Igbo girl is sheltering from a riot among her people and Hausa people in a shop. She befriends a Hausa woman, demonstrating the inconsistency of ethnic conflicts at the personal level. The one described in the story is an episode of religious and ethnic friction that seems to be quite common in Nigeria but also scary and dangerous. In “Ghosts” the setting is the beloved university campus of Nsukka where Adichie grew up. The main character is a retired university professor of mathematics enquiring about his pension that never comes in, just like “el coronel” Buendía in García Márquez’s El Coronel No Tiene Quien Le Escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel). Floating in the darkness there is not only the ghosts of people he believed to be dead, but also the ghost of the Biafra war, which features prominently in her novel Half of a Yellow Sun. There are also stories concerning the experiences of Nigerian immigrants in America, such as “The Shivering”, about a young Nigerian woman in an American college and her gay friend Chinedu who is also very religious. As my blogger friend Nana wrote in his blog, homosexuality is sort of a taboo subject in Africa, but Adichie touches on it in two stories (the other one being “Jumping Monkey Hill” about a creative writing workshop in South Africa, but I would also suggest a strain of it in “On Monday of Last Week”). By doing this, she shows her “open-mindedness” and her sensibility on the matter. Other important themes are the relationship of Nigerian wives with their husbands, especially relating to distance and immigration (“The Arrangers of Marriage”), and family relationships (“Tomorrow is Too Far”, “The American Embassy”). The last story, “The Headstrong Historian”, can be considered a follow-up of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart because it relates the colonisation of a village in three generations’ time. The traditions of the village and their animistic religion are swept awat by Christianity and the white man in a bitter way. This story demonstrates that Adichie can deal with traditional Nigerian lifestyles just as well, but it’s also a sort of reminder that Adichie takes on from Chinua Achebe in order to continue a tradition of excellent story-telling. Some people argued that it was pretentious for Adichie to write such a story, but I don’t think so. Adichie shows her admiration for Achebe without boasting about a comparison between her and the most prestigious of Nigerian writers.

About the author: see this post


Read my reviews of other works by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie here and here.

5 comments:

  1. I am reading the book presently. I am a great fan of Chimamanda and fully agree with your insights. francis.wanaswa@gmail.com

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  2. You're welcome to post your impressions when you've finished the book!

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  3. You know I reflect your thoughts on this. and you know I would definitely read this.

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  4. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! Hope to read more from you!

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