The Thing Around Your Neck (and other short stories) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Book Review

In a strange collision of events I’ve actually had this review drafted and scheduled to be posted for a few weeks. Yet here I am having to edit it in light of recent events…

I was so excited to share this review originally because if you’d asked me those few weeks ago who my current favourite contemporary author is I would have undoubtedly answered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This was because her writing had always moved me like no one else’s. I loved how she seems to write perfectly imperfect characters who I may not always have liked or even respected at times, but they always felt honest to me.

I thought that she had this amazing way of capturing both the ordinary and the extraordinary with her words, and made either utterly captivating to read.

Without a doubt I would have recommended that you go and pick up any of her novels and familiarise yourself with her literary expertise…

But then she was interviewed in the last few days by a newspaper to celebrate the awarding of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun being named as the best Women’s Prize for Fiction winner since that award’s inception. And in this article it came to light that Adichie supports JK Rowling and her TERF agenda.

And as a fan of Adichie’s books I’m heartbroken.

Disappointed.

Disillusioned.

I loved Adichie. Loved anything she had written… but now… well now that has changed. I can’t in good conscience support an author with such hurtful viewpoints.

I was so shocked and dismayed to see that this woman whom I admired is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist i.e. a TERF.

Trans women are women. And to say otherwise is just plain wrong.

Adichie to me was the paradigm of feminism. She taught this once reluctant feminist what feminism truly means. …in my younger years I had somehow felt that feminism was exclusionary of men which was an entirely false interpretation of feminism. That is an argument that is used to make little of the struggles for equality that are experienced by women.

Feminism means equality.

Feminism means we are all equal no matter our gender, our sex, whatever. Every human being is equal to another.

So to now read that Adichie somehow wants to exclude trans women from the conversation of feminism???? To exclude them from getting the equal rights they not only deserve but are entitled to… this one time Adichie fangirl is at a complete loss.

Trans women are women. And I will defend the rights of trans women as a very loud and very proud feminist.

So what do I do with this review?

The book and stories by Adichie were actually reviewed a number of years ago when I originally read them. This post is just me transferring those reviews from Goodreads to my blog.

My blog is primarily a record of the books I read and the feelings I have about them as I read them.

So I’m going to keep this review for the sake of that historical record. And also because if someone searches for a review of Adichie’s short stories online perhaps this review is what they will find and it will inform them of her harmful beliefs.

I hope that this was the right choice.

In the future I will not be reading any more of Adichie’s works as I don’t think I can separate the artist from their art, so this is my signing off on that chapter of my life when I considered her one of my favourite authors.

So please know that the reviews that follow are not an endorsement of Adichie’s TERF viewpoints. I vehemently disagree with her. In fact I recommend that you join with me and do not support her writing at all.

From here is the original post I had drafted…

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
  • Imitation
  • A Private Experience
  • Ghosts
  • 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

My Review

Cell One

“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.

three stars


Imitation

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.

four stars


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


Ghosts

“…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.

four stars


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.

three stars


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.

three stars


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!

five stars


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


The Shivering

“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.

four stars


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.

three stars


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.

three stars


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

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Other Short Stories by Adichie

The Arrangements

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.


Ofodile

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.

three stars


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.


Birdsong

“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.

three stars


Olikoye

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


Apollo

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.

three stars


Real Food

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.

two stars


6 thoughts on “The Thing Around Your Neck (and other short stories) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Book Review

  1. Oh Emer I’m so sorry to hear, this revelation is so devastating 😭 I had some of her books on my TBR after reading your previous reviews but probably will pass now. As an overthinker I really struggle to separate art from artist (I still can’t really look at my Harry Potter books right now) so I don’t think I’d be able to read Adichie’s work without constantly being distracted by the TERF thing.

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  2. Hadn’t read any of her books but it’s always a shame when someone you look up to just isn’t the person you thought.

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  3. Oh no… Oh no 😦 As you know, I’ve still got quite a few of Adichie’s books on my TBR but hearing this news about her being a TERF and supporting JKR? You summarised the feelings so well in your post, Emer. How incredibly disappointing… I wouldn’t feel comfortable supporting her anymore knowing that she supports such exclusionist views. Thank you for sharing this news because I don’t think I would’ve heard about it had you not mentioned it! Like Jess said in her comment, no need to justify having sung her praises. I know how much you’ve loved her work and how they’ve meant to you! Great post, Emer ❤️

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  4. Great review, Emer! Sadly I’ve heard people talk for a couple of years now about how Adichie seems to have some transphobic views, but I have to admit that so far she has been someone whose views I’ve managed to separate from her work because her writing on feminism is so darn good. It is then frustrating to hear her support JKR, and I’m sorry that you’ve decided to step away from her work as I know she’s been such a favourite author of yours!

    I haven’t read any of her novels yet and to be honest I do still want to, but I think it’ll be a long while before I can bring myself to pick one of them up. It’s so sad to realise that so many women seem to think that including trans women in feminism and the feminist conversation will take something away from cis women–I’ve even tried to see things from JKR’s point of view for argument’s sake, but I honestly don’t know what her problem is. Harry Potter was such a big part of my childhood and it makes me so upset that I keep considering just unhauling all my HP books.

    Hopefully one day authors like Adichie and JKR will rejoin the conversation about trans women in a more productive and respectful way. I don’t think you need to justify having sung Adichie’s praises, though! She’s an author whose work really touched you, and her having transphobic views doesn’t say anything about your own views. 🙂

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  5. I haven’t read anything of Adichie’s, but that’s such a shame that she’s revealed herself to be a TERF. It always disgusts me to see trans people excluded from feminist discussions, because OF COURSE trans women are real women, trans men are real men! I had “We Should All Be Feminists” on my TBR, but now I might have to take it off…if she’s a trans exclusionist, then I’m not comfortable with supporting her either… 😦

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