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.
I'm not big on short stories either, but the ones you highlighted sound good to me.
I'm sorry to hear some of the stories didn't work for you. Still. Adichie sounds like an amazing writer. I got Purple Hibiscus recently and I can't wait to read it!
I love short stories. But, I'm not sure that this book would grab me. I couldn't get a feel if you REALLY liked it… or just LIKED it.
Well, I mean… you did say it was "just ok" but what I meant is by the stories that were lingering… EEK!
Sandy Nawrot says
Short stories is a genre I'm only now starting to dig into. It takes a skillful writer to enthrall you, but not make you frustrated at wanting more. I am certain I will join a short story challenge next year, and will probably add this one to the list.
Literary Feline says
I have a copy of this one in my TBR room and am looking forward to giving it a go. I've been lucky that the short story collections I've read recently have been very good–not one story ended up being disappointing–but I really think that is probably not the norm. Some stories usually are stronger than others.
I do like short stories but there is always that risk that you'll like some better than others. I think this one sounds pretty interesting though!!
I loved Half of a Yellow Sun and was curious about this one. I am not a fan of short story collections. I've read some that were okay, but didnt WOW me.
I am reading Ugly Man right now and that collection wows me but it's all shock value and if you can appreciate the humor then it is funny too.
I think this sounds really unique and interesting Dar. Thanks for the review.
I have this out from the library at the moment, based only on how much I really liked Half of a Yellow Sun! I don't read a lot of short stories so we will see how I like it if and when I get to it!
Linda Jacobs says
I'm not much of a short story reader, either, but the premises you mention do sound interesting!
But, then, again, you always manage to make books sound good in your reviews! Thank you!
This one does sound good. I get that alot too, when I'm reading a short story collection, I'll really enjoy some, then others I wont.
I tend to find when I read short story collections that I'll like some and not others. I haven't read anything by this author yet. Thanks for the review.
Diary of an Eccentric
Lit and Life says
I don't read a lot of short stories but this sounds like one to check out.
I like short stories, but don't usually read a whole collection at once (although Jhumpa Lahiri is a recent exception). I have both of her novels on my wish list.
This one should be coming to me soon from the library. Thanks for the great review Dar.
Short stories are really hit and miss for me, especially as you describe: "seemed there should have been more and yet they had just abruptly ended." I find that a lot with short stories. I did love Half of a Yellow Sun and hope to read Purple Hibiscus one day, but I might have to skip this for the time being? Seems I pick up short story collections here and there and then never make time for them. Have you read Purple Hibiscus?
Alice Teh says
I'm not a fan of short stories. I think I have one of Adichie's books in my TBR.
Teddy Rose says
Thanks for the wonderful review! This is on my TBR.
Thoughts of Joy says
I love short stories and I hope to get to this book. I think it's rare when all the short stories in a collection are fabulous, but there's always hope. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed some of them.
I like short stories. I felt sad to read about the Nigerian women coming to America and had to leave all her customs and ways… that's sad. Our individuality is one thing that we cannot loose wherever we go 🙂
Half of a Yellow Sun is next in my TBR! 🙂
Awesome review as always Dar!
I really want to read this book! I love fiction that is set in foreign cultures and this sounds a bit like a book I read awhile ago called Midaq Alley. Although the two books are set in very different places, it seems that they might be similar in voice. Thanks for the great review!