Kinna Reads

A blog of books, reading and world literature

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

26 Comments

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, chronicles some of the issues of contemporary Nigerian, and in some cases African, middle class. Although the quality of the stories is not consistent across the collection, overall these stories confirm my opinion of Adichie as a very special and gifted writer.

To an African reader like myself, it is obvious – Adichie knows her community really well and portrays the truth of our lives; the incredible hardships, the tragedies (sometimes completely senseless),  the havoc that migration can wreak on our families and psyche, the joys and the hopes of Africa. And always, within her stories, she finds a way for her characters to survive it all.

The stories are set where one would expect to find middle-class Nigerians: in the south and the north of the country and in the West, in America. The collection has twelve stories, of which my favorites are:

  • On Monday Last Week – about Kamara, a young Nigerian woman émigré , with a master’s degree, who is employed as the nanny of a young boy of mixed parentage.
  • Jumping Monkey Hill – about a group of African writers who attend a writers’ workshop run by a British man. The story deals quite magnificently with the questions of what is the African story, is there one African story, and who gets to tell it.
  • The Shivering – about two Nigerian migrants to America brought closer in the aftermath of a plane crash in their native country.

Adichie’s writing style is extremely relaxed. Reading her works in English feels as smooth, easy and immediate like speaking Fanti, my Ghanaian language. This is a writing style that masters of African literature, Achebe for example, have perfected. One can almost taste, feel the story, it echoes of Africa’s oral tradition.

Although I appreciate the universality of her themes, I find Adichie’s insistence on situating every story she writes in the Igbo community unsettling. For an African like me, who looks to a unified view of the continent, who sees Africa as greater than the sum of its individual groups, I had hoped that Adichie works would reflect the diversity that is Nigeria. There are some who hail her as the “new leading light in the Biafran renaissance” And the point that the time has come to deal with issues of Biafra more forcefully through literature is well-taken. Nonetheless, I look forward to a less-Igbo focused work from Adichie. Mainly because I love her work and I want to read and enjoy what she could do with the whole of Nigeria!

Back to the stories; I really enjoyed the collection.  Her writing is such that I felt that I had known her characters my whole life. Africa has so many stories to tell and Adichie’s rendition of some of those stories felt so close to home. This is a collection of short stories that I will reread often.  Beautiful. Highly recommended.

Have you read this collection or any of Adichie’s two novels?  What is your opinion of her works?

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Author: Kinna

I'm a bibliophile who reads and reviews international, contemporary and classic literary fiction. I'm partial to the works of African women writers.

26 thoughts on “The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. Hmm… I hadn’t even really considered or noticed that she focuses only on the Igbo community, but that is slightly unsettling. I hope in her future work she highlights the diversity that exists. It was such a great book. Jumping Monkey Hill was one of my favorites as well, the idea that there is an ‘African’ story and that people can try to label it as such definitely rubbed me the wrong way. It makes me wonder about the books we read and whether we really get the true stories from places or not.

    • She is such a good writer and is shaping up to be a really great one that I do hope she focuses more on non-Igbos. I debated with myself about making the comment and but felt that I wanted to be true to my views of work. On the “African story” – yes, it does make one wonder. She herself has talked about the initial rejection she faced from publishers and their comments to the effect that she should try to make her stories less African! It is a great book. I think everyone should read her works.

      • I have Half of a Yellow Sun on my tbr shelf but for some reason keep putting off actually starting it. I think I’m worried I will be disappointed after loving this book so much :)

      • I don’t think that you will be disappointed. From all accounts, it is a really good book. I will let you know when I start to read it-hopefully within the coming month.

    • I understand where you are coming from, but I agree with Eva not only for the reason she gave but also due to the fact that the book should not stray much away from its title. The title
      HOAYS is drown from defunct Biafran (Predominantly Igbo) Flag and the principal setting is Nsukka in Igbo area. The book really talked about other Nigerian region/tribe but it has to focus more in Igbo area to make reasonable sense given the title. The book certainly expose the fact that Nigeria is not a uni tribal nation. If she considers your advise in her next book, the title will not be HOYAS but may be something like “Nigerian tribes and Its diversity weighed in the balance”.

    • Check out where she got the title , but on a different day, I agree that she should focus equally in the other tribes. HOAYS was flag of Biafra. Biafra was majority Igbo. see my full explanation below:

  2. I’m not normally a fan of short stories but I did enjoy these. I have read all of her books and was lucky enough to hear her talk last year. I am a big fan, but think Purple Hibiscus is her best book so far.

    • You see, there is a short story collection that you like! And kudos to Adichie that it’s her book that you loved. I’ve been wanting to comment on your review of Native Hurricane. About your concern regarding watered down versions of events. I think that an African work need not overdo the “african atmosphere” bit to be authentic. Adichie’s books are very readable and accessible and yet managed to stay authentic and true to Africa, its events and history. I haven’t read Half of a Yellow Sun yet. Will do so soon. But I absolutely loved Purple Hibiscus. She writes so well.

  3. This sounds really interesting, and I really want to read it. Since I’m not a big fan of short stories and I noticed that you mentioned that she’s written more, would you know if she’s written any full-length books?

    • Her full-length novels are Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. I recommend starting with Purple Hibiscus. I highly highly recommend her books. Now, what are we going to get you to like short stories? What’s a genre to do?

      • I have to admit, I am not big on short stories but LOVED this book.

      • Now let me push my limits of mathematical reasoning: if you loved this collection, then it follows that you are a fan of short stories and then it follows that you can try another collection :)

      • If this made you like short stories Amy, I’m going to give it a try. I’m also adding Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun to my TBR pile. AND I’ve added the short story collections you mentioned to Amy, although I think I had The Laws of Evening noted down somewhere from your review of it.

        Your blog is one of the worst in making me note down every book you review or mention!

  4. True point! What would you recommend as another short story collection to try?

  5. Interesting comment you made above about publishers saying to make her stories “less African.” I recently heard that Canadian publishers often tell their authors to make their stories, “less Canadian.” I find this kind of thinking outrageous. I’m more likely to read regional stories and the thought that they people are trying to suppress such books, is infuriating. If it’s less Canadian, or less African, what should they be more of? American? British? What’s the default? If they mean “less stereotypically African/ Canadian” I can maybe see where they’re coming from. I’d like to read books that show different cultures, ideas, and so on, but still set in specific places. It’s a good way to challenge the idea of what being say a Canadian or African is. Certainly the experience of someone from Ghana could be very different from someone in Egypt. Someone in rural Newfoundland would have a different outlook than someone in downtown Toronto.

  6. I love this review. It’s so much more articulate than mine was. We share the same sentiments about her writing. Adichie is phenomenal.

  7. I’ve read and loved all three of Adichie’s books! :) I actually really like her focus on Igbo culture…I think for too many Western readers, ‘Africa’ gets lumped together as one place. So seeing a book not just set in a particular nation, but also about a particular group within that nation might help people begin to distinguish more.

    BUT, obviously I’m not African. :)

    • Eva, your point is well taken. And I completely understand where you are coming from and really appreciate your sensitivity to the lumping of stuff about different groups on the continent under one simplistic label – Africa. My issue with her work is really rooted in what is going on within the continent and among her peoples. It is vitally important for us that non-Africans understand the diversity and complexities that is Africa (your point exactly). And for us on the continent, I think the time has come for us to move beyond the instinctive latching on to our various group identities to the almost exclusion of our national identities. Quite frankly, this whole “tribal” thing (and here i use the word “tribe” in its most negative connotation – the word is horrible) had not worked for us – not during our brutal colonization and certainly not during these post-colonial times. The complex and unfortunate Biafra conflict is partly rooted in this “tribal” issue. Of course, I care about this vis a vis Adichie’s work because she is really amazing.

      • I completely understand what you’re saying. :) I have noticed that most of the SS African authors I’ve read tend to be focused on a certain ethnic group, rather than the nation as a whole. Of course, in American literature, authors tend to stick to one ethnic group as well. But we have a much stronger national identity.

  8. Writers write what is true to them. If the Igbo community appeals to Adichie, why not? The question should be, methinks, does it strike a cord with you? Did you enjoy reading it? If yes, then, there is no issue.

    Quick question, how would you feel if asked to write about a culture you are not familiar with? How would you even?

    • First, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I’ve just visited yours (The Bookaholic Blog) and am already a follower.

      To your comment: I do enjoy reading Adichie’s works, immensely. I value her talent greatly and think highly of her writing as I stated in the review. However, that does not mean that I cannot find issue with it. I’m a reader, who brings to the reading of literature all my “issues” and identities. First, I’m a feminist and that’s no brainer. I’m also a Ghanaian, an African, who refuses to reduce my experience of my country and my continent and limit it to the “tribe” that I belong to. I use the word “tribe” here in the derogatory form. I happen to believe that the adherence to the one group mindset has not served Africa and its peoples well. Wherever they are. IMO, this mindset is at the root of a lot that is wrong with us and what constraints us in our nation-building. Most importantly, it does not even reflect the reality of a growing number of Africans. These then are some of my issues, I have more :) that I bring to an engagement with any book. I read books from all over the world but I’m partial to works by women. This makes African women writers my consistency, as I like to say. And I’m always on the lookout for works that promote these viewpoints or agendas of mine. So yes, while I enjoy the works of Adichie, it is also entirely possible for me to take issue with them based on where I’m coming from and what I think should be happening. As an example, I love the works of William Shakespeare but I’m quite critical of some aspects in his works. Adichie is the writer and will write what she wants to write, of course. But, and as I’ve stated, that does not preclude me from imagining and relishing what more she could do with the dynamic landscape that is Nigeria, given that I do adore the way that she writes, the way her stories unfold. I’m only talking about Nigeria. I’m not asking Adichie to write about Eskimos, for instance :).

      Thankfully, I’m not a writer, I have no artistic talent whatsoever. I can’t write about the cultures that I’m familiar with let alone those that I’m not. However, all cultures are on some level familiar if I assume a common foundation of humanity… In fact, we are more similar than different, an idea that scares some.

      I do agree that writers write what is true to them. Some of these truths however, are not based on reality. I’m thinking here of the more ‘unreal’ genres like SciFi and Fantasy. Writers imagine and write. Some of them hope that what they’ve written resonates with us, the readers. Some don’t care. We read and discuss. We critique because we care.

  9. Pingback: On Completing 100 ‘Shots of Short’ « Kinna Reads

  10. You are doing great work here Kinna. I reviewed The Thing Around Your Neck for Farafina magazine some time ago; I think it’s still available online somewhere. The book spoke to me on many levels, but I particularly liked her treatment of the African (not only Igbo) Diaspora.

  11. Her novel intrugiues you, it has a way of captivating you but i want say that some of the stories like “imitation” lacks climax it was started and ended in the same tempo.

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