I originally went to the library to look for Adichie’s Americanah because it’s been recommended to me by so many people. I’m kind of glad that particular branch’s copy was checked out because I found this collection of short stories instead. I feel like Adichie is going to be my new Toni Morrison: every book of hers I pick up, I enjoy very much; and even though I don’t totally understand the culture about which she is writing (because I am a relatively privileged white American), I can’t help but feel transported and captivated by it. Which is what storytelling is all about, yes?
Title – The Thing Around Your Neck
Author – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Page count – 218
Each of the twelve stories in this collection either takes place in or involves people from Nigeria (which is where Adichie grew up). She uses multiple frames of reference and frequently handles the themes of ethnicity, nationality, and immigration; gender roles, sexuality, and marriage. My favorite stories in this collection are 1) a snippet in time when two women of different ethnic groups are running from a violent political riot and happen to escape into the same abandoned shop, and 2) a multi-generational account of a woman who has to navigate her own Nigerian village’s customs and deal with the repercussions of white Christian colonialism. It’s weird to say that I have “favorites” because none of them are happy stories, per se, and we tend to think it’s wrong to celebrate or admire things that make us feel sad or confused or angry or any other “negative” emotions. But, as Meredith Grey has said, not everybody has to be happy all the time. That’s not mental health. That’s crap.
Also, to the white people reading this, know that you might feel uncomfortable at times and you won’t always relate to what’s going on. That is ok. Not everything has to cater to your needs and be about you. Accept that, and move on…
The passage I picked for this review is an example of Adichie’s ability to bring the reader into the moment of the story, especially by using multiple senses:
“You do not know when Dozie moves, when he stands behind you, so close that you smell the citrus on him, perhaps he peeled an orange and did not wash his hands afterwards. He turns you around and looks at you and you look at him and there are fine lines on his forehead and a new harshness in his eyes…There is a long silence while you watch the column of black ants making its way up the trunk, each ant carrying a bit of white fluff, creating a black-and-white pattern.” (p. 197)