The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a collection of 12 short stories set in Nigeria or in America with Nigerian characters, particularly women, as their focus. The stories are about family, loss, grief, regret, and the difficulties of having to adjust to a different country’s customs and ways. I have mixed thoughts on this collection. Some of the stories I really liked and they left an impression on me while others I wasn’t as fond off. Although I guess in a collection of short stories that’s bound to happen.
One story that was a favorite was A Private Experience. Two women, very different women get caught in a riot in a Nigerian market. One woman, Chika, is a medical student in Lagos and Igbo Christian while the other is a poor Hausa Muslim who sells onions. When the riot starts the Muslim woman leads Chika to an abandoned store and there they stay while the rioting continues. What was interesting about this story is how two such different women from different worlds related to each other when confined to such close quarters. They likely would never have met otherwise. Yet here they find some common ground where the Muslim woman offers a part of her garment for Chika to sit on and shares with her some personal things whereby Chika gives her some medical advice. Ultimately it shows how quickly a bond can form in the worst of circumstances.
Another is the title story of the book, The Thing Around Your Neck which is about a Nigerian girl winning the lottery to come to America. She arrives to stay with a family friend who turns out to be a not so nice sort and tries to assault her so she leaves to try to make it on her own. She gets on a bus, stops in a town and ends up working in a diner. There she meets a man and seems to fall in love yet every night as she is sleeping it feels as if she is being choked by the thing around her neck. She can’t seem to trust her boyfriend and is endlessy amazed at the waste in America and how people can just choose what they want to do. In her country, there are no options, you do what you’re told. Life in America is choking her as she is so conflicted with what is going on in her own country.
There are more I liked but the last one I’ll mention is The Arrangers of Marriage. A young woman comes to America via an arranged marriage. Her new husband is constantly harping at her to speak like the Americans and act like them. It is the only way they will be accepted here. He had already had his name changed to an American one and does the same for her as he feels their names are too hard for Americans to pronounce. At one point someone from their building comments on the wonderful smells coming from their apartment-it is Nigerian cooking. After that her husband insists they only eat American food, he doesn’t want them to be the people filling the building with the smells of foreign food. This story made me sad. This woman comes here and has to give up everything she knows. She should be able to keep her customs and still learn the ways of America and be happy. She will stay with this man until she has her papers and then possibly make her own way.
There are a lot of other themes in the book like two strangers coming together because of a plane crash in Nigeria, one of the overwhelming anger a sister has for her brother, an old man who believes his dead wife still visits him, and one of a woman who loses her son and wants to flee to America just to name a few others.
Adichie’s writing style draws us into the lives and circumstances of all these characters so that we feel we are living a little piece of this story. I did find that a few of these stories really left me hanging. It seemed there should have been more and yet they had just abruptly ended. For myself, not being a fan of short stories, I much prefered Half of a Yellow Sun which I thought was amazing. This novel was just ok for me although I did enjoy a lot of the stories and a few of them I’m still thinking about and for those it made reading this novel worth it. Those who are fans of short stories and Adichie will love this newest book from her.
The Thing Around Your Neck was released by Random House on May 22, 2009. You can buy it here in the US and here in Canada. I look forward to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings us next and I really hope it’ll be another full length novel.