My rating: 4 stars
Each short story in the collection The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presents the reader with an attribute of Nigerian society by focusing on a specific person or family. It delves into a variety of themes, including corruption, people that live between Nigeria and the US (both physically and culturally), religious differences, violence, women always being expected to have children and arranged marriages.
Various enthralling stories are set in American soil. In ‘The Shivering’, two Nigerians forge a friendship, in spite of not always being truthful. Their dialogues and the development of their connection is engrossing. Two Nigerian women that moved to the US take centre stage in ‘On Monday of Last Week’ and ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’. They are both remarkable and complex characters.
Although many of the stories share a similar tone, another of the themes delved into is the existence of people from different backgrounds in a country. In ‘Cell One’, young people from middle-class families steal things from each other’s houses, but the blame falls on people from the poorer parts of town. The brother of the narrator was irresponsible and kept getting into trouble. Soon he was accused of being part of a university cult, which was similar to a gang. The story portrays the good and bad in people. The paths of two people from different social backgrounds also cross in ‘A Private Experience’. Chika is caught in a riot and is helped by a woman from a different faith.
“Religion and ethnicity are often politicized because the ruler is safe if the hungry ruled are killing one another.”
The story that captivated me the most was ‘Tomorrow Is Too Far’, though. It stands out from the others because it focuses on a slightly different theme – sibling jealousy and the dark feelings a child can harbour. The past actions of the characters are revealed gradually, which enhances the story. Trees are an important element in the plot. Their descriptions not only help paint a picture of the surrounding nature but are also closely connected with the action.
There are no mediocre stories in this collection. However, they are not all equally interesting or affecting. In ‘Ghosts’, two men meet again after a long time and take the opportunity to recall the past. Various mentions to a war that I know nothing about left me slightly confused. The plot of ‘Imitation’ didn’t grab my interest. It focuses on a couple and the doubts the wife harbours. She lives permanently in the US, while he spends most of his time in Nigeria. The proposition of ‘The Headstrong Historian’, on the other hand, is thought-provoking, but it tries to sum up too much plot into a short number of pages. So, the characters aren’t as fleshed out as in other stories. Through the story of the descendants of a couple that struggled to conceive, it delves into Nigerian superstitions and the imposition of western culture.
Despite the slightly repetitive tone of the collection as a whole, most of the characters are so fascinating that I wanted to know more about their lives and future. Many stories could, in fact, have been turned into novellas or even novels. This was my first time reading a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but it certainly won’t be the last.