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?