In this post I am reviewing Adichie’s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck and also other short stories written by her that I have read online.
The Thing Around Your Neck
Blurb from Goodreads
The stories in this collection from Orange-Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie straddle the cultures of Nigeria and the West. Her characters battle with the responsibilities of modern life, a world in which identity is too often compromised.
List of Stories included in this collection:
- Cell One
- A Private Experience
- On Monday of Last Week
- Jumping Monkey Hill
- The Thing Around Your Neck
- The American Embassy
- The Shivering
- The Arrangers of Marriage
- Tomorrow is Too Far
- The Headstrong Historian
“This was the season of thefts on our serene campus. Boys who had grown up watching “Sesame Street,” reading Enid Blyton, eating cornflakes for breakfast, and attending the university staff primary school in polished brown sandals were now cutting through the mosquito netting of their neighbors’ windows, sliding out glass louvres, and climbing in to steal TVs and VCRs. We knew the thieves. Still, when the professors saw one another at the staff club or at church or at a faculty meeting, they were careful to moan about the riffraff from town coming onto their sacred campus to steal.”
This short story tells the tale of Nnamabia through his younger sister’s eyes. Nnamabia is at that age: no longer a boy but not yet a man. He is influenced by others, gets involved in antisocial behaviour and one night in a case of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ he gets arrested. What follows is a story of corruption, of ill treatment and of discovering if you are someone who is willing to stand up and be counted.
This is not immediately as gripping as some of the other short stories I have read by Adichie but by the end it is just as moving.
It is one of the things she has come to love about America, the abundance of unreasonable hope
What is love within marriage?
Is it a promise of fidelity of name… but not of the body?
Is it providing a house for your children… but not a home?
Is it keeping up with some idea of what is right and expected of you… or is it dancing together with four left feet?
At its core this story examines love. The expectations, the hopes, the dreams, the loyalties, the betrayals… As ever Adichie’s prose leaves a wake of victims in her trail. No one is perfect. Hearts are torn open and innermost thoughts are laid bare for all to see. And it is these imperfections, this unrelenting frailty of humanity, that make this feel honest.
A Private Experience
…riots do not happen in a vacuum, that religion and ethnicity are often politicised because the ruler is safe if the hungry ruled are killing one another.”
This tells the story of two Nigerian women, one Igbo and Christian and the other Hausa and Muslim, that take refuge together in a shop during a riot. The images painted in this story are harsh and real. Some descriptions caught me unawares and made me feel ill but isn’t that how such things should make us feel? The murderous chaos going on outside the shop is utterly terrifying and yet inside the walls of this shop there is a softness and a gentleness; a sharing of kindness between these two women who should be on opposite sides.
This is a beautifully crafted short piece of writing that gives great pause for thought.
four and a half stars
“…he was mourning a time immersed in possibilities. …a man who carries with him the weight of what could have been.”
Are the ghosts of our pasts always with us? Even though sometimes we choose not to look back are we still forever conscious of how it is we came to be? What formed our minds, our view points? What filled our hearts.
This short describes the meeting with two old men, acquaintances who had not met for years as during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran Conflict) they had been separated. The story had the most beautiful wistful air to it. It was quiet, gentle but laden with emotion and my heart felt heavy when I finished it.
On Monday of Last Week
A story of loneliness. Of waiting, of feeling inadequate and then having someone flip that switch inside you and feeling wanted again. This short follows a young Nigerian woman who waited for her husband to send for her to come join him in America and how the passage of time can cause you to not recognise your life anymore.
Jumping Monkey Hill
“But why do we say nothing? …why do we always say nothing?”
This story confused me. I couldn’t get into it initially. The characters didn’t capture my heart or my imagination even though as the story developed some very interesting themes of how women are treated were explored. For example, what is considered to be expected from them. What they should expect themselves from life, what they should and should not say.
I quite liked the ending. It felt unresolved but in that way that makes you think more about life… Not my favourite ever short story but still interesting.
The Thing Around Your Neck
“After you told him this, he pursed his lips and held your hand and said he understood how you felt. You shook your hand free, suddenly annoyed, because he thought the world was, or ought to be full of people like him. You told him there was nothing to understand, it was just the way it was.”
Utterly brilliant short story describing the feelings of what it means to be a young immigrant woman in a foreign land. It has echoes of Adichie’s full length novel Americanah and packs such an emotion-laden punch in a short few pages. It is brutal in its honesty and unflinching in the style of prose used.
A must read!
The American Embassy
A short story that suffered because of the impact that the previous story had on me. It took a little longer to get into but once I did it was very thought provoking. It tells the story of a woman who attends the American Embassy looking to be granted asylum and how humiliating an experience that that is. She has to plead with someone else to believe her; a stranger who does not understand her or her way of life. The guilt that eats her up when she feels like she has to use family bereavements to show that her need is just…
It is a beautiful story that shows the human side of politics; the person behind the statistic.
three and a half stars
“How can you love somebody and yet want to manage the amount of happiness that person is allowed?”
How can a person claim to love you and yet want you to do things that suits only them? This is a beautiful short story about love and heartbreak, about faith and religion. Adichie’s voice as ever is honest and her characters make you feel so much in just a few pages. The character’s views on faith and religion are also wonderfully refreshing and really give great pause for thought.
The Arrangers of Marriage
A short that explores the emotional and social implications of what happens when a young Nigerian girl is sent to America to marry what her family see as a good catch, a doctor.
Tomorrow is Too Far
Even at 10 you knew that some people can take up too much space by simply being, that by existing, some people can stifle others.
A short story woven in such a way that it feels very ethereal, other worldly even. It explores the family dynamics of favouritism.
The Headstrong Historian
“This story … would cause her to make a clear link between education and dignity, between the hard, obvious things that are printed in books and the soft, subtle things that lodge themselves in the soul.”
This short looks at three generations of Nigerians. It follows the lives of Nwamgba, her son and granddaughter and shows the impact of westernisation on this one family through religious and cultural changes. It explores the undying love a mother has for her child; how she wants nothing but the best for him even if that would mean that he no longer recognises himself as being like her. How the spirits of the past affect our present, our future… How what was once important becomes the ways of the elders. How education can be biased and skewed towards a certain viewpoint. And how things come full circle.
It’s a very thought provoking short story that I immediately had to read again upon finishing just so I could fully take it all in as it packs quite the punch in its short few paragraphs.
four and a half stars
Overall I very much enjoyed this collection of short stories and have rated it four stars
Other Short Stories by Adichie
This short story was commissioned as a piece to be reflective of or inspired by the 2016 race for The White House in the U.S.
This story is a fictional imagining of Melania Trump’s life and features her husband Donald and his daughter Ivanka among others.
And I honestly don’t really know how I feel about it. On one hand I feel almost voyeuristic in how this short story talks about intimate details regarding the Trumps and I don’t particularly like that but are they fair game as public figures??? The short is clearly labelled as fiction! And so then on the other hand I like the writing style but the story didn’t ever capture my imagination… I think I am going to rate it two stars for the time being and possibly mull this one over a little longer.
Unnerving, weird, captivating, sad, mixed up, complicated…
Beautiful writing and a very strange short story with a significant “creep factor” about what truly goes on in a home. Very sad too.
Janelle Asked to the Bedroom
A 2018 short micro-novel published on instagram that seems to be about Melania Trump. I found this to be lacking in nuance and overall feel unsatisfied by its brevity.
“He was telling me that he played the game better than others, while I had not yet conceived of the game itself. From the moment I met him, I had had the sensation of possibility, but for him the path was already closed, had indeed never been open; there was no room for things to sweep in and disrupt.”
This was a very interesting short story about a young woman involved in a love affair with a married man and its affects on her life and her attitudes towards both herself and others. It brings into focus the differences between how men and women in this situation are treated differently and illustrates how we change ourselves and the extent to which we can lose our true selves for our relationships.
It’s a belief often held that a short story cannot elicit the same deep feeling as a novel.
If you feel like that this story should change that whole mindset.
It is a fictional reimagining of a Nigerian woman’s experience with the well known Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. He was a minister in Nigeria during the 1980s and on into the early 1990s until he joined the World Health Organisation. He was instrumental in the foundation of a successful health programme in Nigeria in the ’80s and this story illustrates the effects that this programme had on an ordinary citizen.
It is beautifully written and simplistic in its scope…
And by the end I had to wipe away a few tears.
four and a half stars
Twice monthly Okenwa visits his ageing parents. He sees them grow visibly older with each visit, become more settled in their view points and fears that they will not be around much longer. One week Okenwa’s parents tell him of the fate of their former houseboy Raphael and this causes him to reflect on the past and contemplate his evolving relationship with his parents.
“My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory.”
This is a slow revealing short story that leads to an interesting conclusion that I did not expect. It is nicely written and the language is very evocative.
A short story recalling a childhood dislike of a particular type of food. It is so far my least favourite short story by this author. Unfortunately I just failed to be transported back in time to the childhood table of the author’s youth. The writing, however, is still very beautiful.