Updated on July 29, 2016
34. ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A few months ago I read Adichie’s Americanah and fell in love with her writing style. Now I’ve read Adichie’s only short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, and I continue to find her work entrancing.
Adichie’s short stories touch upon similar themes to those in Americanah: she writes about the conflict of identity that arises when a person emigrates from Nigeria to America, the violence of corrupt governments and political revolutions, and the lives of women in societies that treat them as second-class citizens. For the most part the stories are realist, but there is a spark of magical realism in ‘Ghosts’, when a man’s dead wife pays him a visit.
I noticed several themes that recurred throughout the collection. For example, skin plays an important role in how characters are portrayed; it can be ashy and dry, or glowing and attractive; they maintain it with moisturiser and Vaseline, or let it deteriorate. Most of the central characters are women, and beauty is often commented upon – quite often these women are beautiful, or are called beautiful, and seem bemused by the idea or distanced from their own attractiveness. Adichie did a similar thing in Americanah, where black women are called beautiful by white people only because they are exotic and different.
So many of the stories in this collection are memorable, and it’s almost impossible for me to pick a favourite. I loved ‘A Private Experience’, which is about two women, an Igbo Christian and a Hausa Muslim, hiding from bloodthirsty riots in the back room of a shop. I thought ‘Jumping Monkey Hill’ was an excellent analysis of the idea of story: if a story doesn’t focus on the bigger issues, is it passé? ‘The American Embassy’, about a woman trying to flee the country after losing her son and husband to political violence, really touched me, but I think my favourite was ‘The Headstrong Historian’. I felt that this story confronted the issue of identity amazingly well, beginning with the conflict between Christian missionaries and Nigerian tribespeople, and going on to show how cultural identity comes to be defined differently by different generations. It was such a simply told yet deeply complex story.
I continue to be impressed by Adichie’s writing, although I thought her novel was slightly more compelling than many of her short stories. Still, I highly recommend this collection!
“It is one of the things she has come to love about America, the abundance of unreasonable hope.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.