The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fourth Estate, 2009
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Many have read and loved the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before me. For me, she was the kind of author who I was afraid to read and find out I did not love like everyone else. Amy’s Nigerian Independence Reading Project finally pushed me to pick up this collection of short stories. You need not be surprised: I loved it. I never should have worried so much. Now, I cannot wait to get to her two novels.
Short stories are not my favourite genre. I often struggle. Sometimes I love one, but fail to connect with the other ones in the collection. Sometimes it all just seems to haphazard and random. The Thing Around Your Neck is nothing like that. Adichie’s prose is sparse and beautiful and it speaks to you, all by itself. No fancy words necessary. She has that perfect combination of emotion without sentimentality, criticism without being overtly political or shoving it down your throat. She manages to draw you into the little worlds she creates in her stories in just over one page and will make you want to read on far beyond the pages that make up this book.
There was not one story I preferred above all others, but there were two that spoke to me more at this moment because of the issues raised.
One was about a group of African authors that gather on a bungalow park called “Jumping Monkey Hill” (also the title of the story), for a workshop on writing. There, two men soon take charge of judging the work produced by the other authors. In the story, questions about authenticity are raised, especially in regards to ‘African’ literature (as a category): Who decides what the “true African” experience is and how to describe it?
The other story I particularly loved was “The Headstrong Historian”. It is hard to summarise what this story is about exactly. The reason I found it so interesting was because it deals with missionaries in Nigeria. The way the issues of relations between the mission and a Nigerian family are portrayed is what confirmed the intelligent storytelling Adichie is capable of to me. Her portrayal of a Nigerian family and the opportunities and threats to local customs mission meant for them, their willingness to cooperate, but also their resistance is portrayed in so many layers that when I read it, I decided on the spot that if I ever were to teach a class on mission history I would have my students read this. Not because of the historical information, but because it offers so many perspectives and raises so many of the key issues.
The Thing Around Your Neck convinced me that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an author well worth reading. Had I not realised by now that reading one book by an author and loving it might be too little ground to claim he or she as a favourite, I would be telling you that indeed, she is. I am currently divided between wanting to read her two novels right now and the wish to savour the opportunities to read them for the first time. I suspect I might eventually decide on the latter. I don’t want to rush through her books only to feel lost with nothing new to explore.
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