After reading Americanah, an unputdownable book full of wit and vigour- I was itching to read another one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works and this anthology of twelve short stories did not disappoint. Coming up with twelve different stories, ensuring their plots don’t clash and their characters vary in their personalities all the while, sticking to the common theme of ‘the thing around your neck’ is hard to do but she has executed that effectively. In this book she’s given us some poignant and touching stories which stay with you long after you read their last lines. You can’t help but take a break after each one to ponder upon its lessons and meaning and really read between the lines.
The Thing Around Your Neck features the tales of various Nigerian women, all from different walks of life and varying in age. The stories are set in a range of time periods from the mid-1900s to the 2000s and the protagonists are from every strata of society and some are placed in the U.S.A as well. We see one thing common to all stories and that is the essence and culture of Nigeria which is alive in all of the protagonists. Despite being in different times and situations, the women are subjected to the same repression and orthodoxy, but remain empowered nonetheless. From exploring corruption in Nigerian authorities to the terrors of immigration to the oppression caused by gender roles, making us accomplice to ethnic-wars and riots and of course, her compelling feminist epiphanies, Adichie really takes us full circle.
Although this book included themes common to Adichie’s work, something I found unique to this book and what I believe she excels at writing is grief. Devoting certain stories to the aftermath of losing a loved one and the toll it takes on human beings, she’s given us an insight into a rather complex feeling well and told the tale with understanding and sensitivity. Such stories in the book resonate with you and are truly heartrending. One thing I recommend if you’re curious to know more about any story is to read its analysis and symbolism, I found a great site for this and I’ve linked it at the end.
I don’t want to disclose any plots or characters because I’d be revealing too much, but just know that this book has some intricate and gripping storylines. For those of you who’ve read the book, I wanted to reveal some of my favourite stories from the collection. Don’t get me wrong all of them moved me but some simply resonated with me more and were real page-turners. In particular, A Private Experience, Jumping Monkey Hill, Tomorrow Is Too Far and The Headstrong Historian.
The Thing Around Your Neck is one of the stories in the anthology, but it raises the question, why is it the title of the book? What is the ‘thing around your neck’? In my opinion, it’s the characters’ discontent, their past, culture or even grief and loneliness in some cases which is almost like a prison that doesn’t seem to leave them. The ‘thing around your neck’ is always lingering and casting its shadow.
Final thoughts~ Overall, this collection is a vivid and powerful one. It focuses on everyday aspects of life and relationship that are painful yet considered normal because everyone goes through them at some point. If anything, this book is a good reference for anyone looking to read short stories because the ones in The Thing Around Your Neck are great examples of what a sequence and build-up of a short story should be like.
“He said “see” as if it meant something more than what one did with one’s eyes”
~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck