Shorts : The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
1st December, 2016
The Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of 12 short stories, focusing mainly on the lives and experiences of middle class Nigerian women (save for one story, Ghosts that has a male narrator) who are caught up in political or religious violence or coping with unhappy marriages, or faced with unexpected disappointments or standing at crossroads of homesickness and immigration.
This is my third book by Chimamanda, having loved her debut, Purple Hibiscus (for which I hope to put a review next year) and being fascinated by her ambitious novel, Americanah. I was very satisfied with the read and I assure you she is as good a short story writer as a novelist.
Here are some stories in the collection that are worth a special mention:
My favourite story is A Private Experience, in which a Christian medical student seeks shelter with a poor Muslim woman during a religious riot. Their kinsmen (Igbo and Hausa respectively) are fighting against each other outside. During the time they share shelter, they exchange stories and offer their expertise to help the other. A stream of humanism in a background of riots is an excellent take on the situation.
My second favourite is Imitation, in which a young wife, living a life of isolation in America (her husband visits her for two months), discovers her wealthy husband has moved a mistress into the family home in Lagos. She tries out a different hairstyle to imitate the mistress that she heard of. In the end she decides to confront the situation, something that she has never done before.
In Cell One, the narrator tells the story of her pampered brother who achieves a mature outlook after being wrongly arrested and being forced to spend time under detention.
The title story, The Thing Around Your Neck is told in the second person. A young girl goes to live with her uncle’s family in Maine after being granted an American visa. Her homesickness eases since they speak the same language and have the same food as back home in the new house. Later she says “until your uncle came into the cramped basement where you slept and pulled you forcefully to him, squeezing your buttocks, moaning… And you remembered what he said, that America was give-and-take.”
The American Embassy exposes the sub human treatment of Nigerians by the embassy officials. The people who are crushed in spirit and desperately seeking a way out are tortured by unsympathetic passport officials.
Arrangers of Marriage is the story of a woman married to a Nigerian doctor in the US and how vast is the rift between reality and her hopes.
Some other notable stories are Jumping Monkey Hill that deals with sexual harassment and male chauvinism narrated as a story in a story, and Ghosts where a Professor is visited by ghosts of his past. Ghosts explores themes of drug counterfeiting, corruption and non-payment of pensions to the deserving candidates.
The theme ‘around your neck’ echoes through many of the short stories. It can be a scarf (A Private Experience) or the heaviness that strangles your neck (The Thing Around your Neck) to mention a few. In each story the protagonist or a close acquaintance of the protagonist feels choked and tells us the story behind the suffocation.
All the twelve stories are sculpted close to reality. The characters gain our sympathy by their life experiences and surprise us about ways to survive the tragedy. Chimamanda’s writing is laden with a strong social and political commentary. When strangled with the noose of violence, politics, tradition, displacement or dismissal, her characters come to life and recite their stories. Some find solace in confrontation and some are left in a dubious air of malaise.
Final Verdict :
Most of the stories in the collection touched my heart. Those who love stories in contemporary setting written with a brazen steady hand would adore this book.
Title : The Thing Around Your Neck
Author : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher : 4th Estate
Published : 2009
Language : English
Pages : 218
Rating : 4/5
Have you read any books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? (Because if you haven’t you really should)
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is the author of three novels, Purple Hibiscus(2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013). Her short story collection is named The Thing around Your Neck (2009).