The Thing Around Your Neck Review by Wadzanai Mhute

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck is, at once, engaging. Her style subtly involves you in her characters' lives without your realizing it. The title story is a prime example of this subtlety. The story is about a Nigerian girl who wins the greencard lottery and moves to the US. Her experiences, which do not mirror television versions of the US, start to slowly choke her. Similar immigrant stories such as "The Arrangers of Marriage," "Imitation," "On Monday Last Week" and "The Shivering" give insight into the varied faces and lives of immigrants. Their Nigerian roots, reasons for wanting to immigrate, and immigration status may be different, but their experience once in the country is eerily similar: i.e., discomfort while navigating one’s way in an alien land and among alien people who sometimes are even one’s husband as in “The Arrangers of Marriage.”

In “Jumping Monkey Hill” an old British man who is heading a workshop of African writers questions the plausibility of one of the writer’s story while declaring another writer’s work “passé”. This colonial attitude is explored even further in “The Headstrong Historian”, where a young boy rejects his local customs in favor of his Catholic schooling.

Adichie is a believer in retaining one’s customs as can be seen in her novels “Purple Hibiscus” and “Half of a Yellow Sun.” This is an ongoing theme and a dilemma that faces modern Africa, whether to fully embrace the western culture or to retain one’s culture and value it.

The beauty of Adichie's story telling in part resides in its apparent simplicity, while creating memorable stories with enduring emotional impact. Her stories are human stories, and who cannot be affected by that?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The Thing Around Your Neck, Knopf, 2009. 240 pp.


© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

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