Being a best selling author is a bonus but the real gem for any good author lies in the one’s talent and his or her ability to remain faithful to it. Such an author never disappoints her readers.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one such author. To be honest, it was her name rather than the book title “The Thing Around Your Neck” that led me into reading the book, her third coming after the highly acclaimed Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. The book is a collection of a dozen short stories- which engage the reader right from the first page to the last. Many of the stories have been previously printed in journals but under different titles. And like all her previous books, this leaves the reader yearning for more.
The scenes are set in Nigeria and America- countries Adichie is very familiar with. The stories are written in a highly eloquent and smooth style. She covers many issues that do with ordinary life like marriages and mistresses, love, relationships and betrayal, teenage crime and the cult activities in Nigerian Universities; lack of pension payments for retired civil servants, religious riots in Northern Nigeria, sibling rivalry and death; and a new bride’s experience in an arranged marriage in a foreign country. Some of the events that are created within the stories are coined around Nigeria’s history.
The Thing Around Your Neck, on which the book title is based, is one of these short stories. The main character is a young girl. She comes to America as a US visa lottery winner and settles in with the help of her uncle- he gets her a job and enrolls her in a community college. All seems well until he starts his nightly visits to her basement bedroom. When she pushes him away, he withdraws all his support; he had warned her that in America:
“The trick is to understand, to know that America is give and take.
You gave up a lot but gained a lot too.”
Because she ‘gives up’ nothing, she loses all and ends up in Connecticut, as a waitress with small pay, struggling to pay her rent and send some money back home. She doesn’t write home; for how would she explain the lack of gifts she had promised all her relatives back home? She’s sad and alone, and every night before she sleeps something around her neck nearly chokes her.
Later, when she starts dating a young white man, the thing that nearly choked her starts to let go. But even then she has a hard time believing in the sincerity of her man’s love. Her own insecurities and the racial and class differences between them threaten to drive them apart. When news comes from home that her father died five months earlier, she has to return to Nigeria.
I really enjoyed reading this book; only that some of the stories seem to come to an abrupt halt just when they are becoming more interesting. Or is this the essence behind short stories?
The Thing Around Your Neck was published in 2010 by Anchor.