Review: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie

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

REFERENCE:

The Thing Around Your Neck Guide

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a note-worthy work of fiction featuring two journeys that are both extremely different yet similar in some ways. Although the main focus is a love-story, it branches into so much more giving us well-rounded, brilliant but flawed characters. It shows us what finding your place in the world looks like and that it isn’t the destination, rather the journey. This is peppered with insights on racism, immigration and politics which are narrated through the characters’ experiences. The book is centered around Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet and fall in love in high school in Nigeria.

The characters are deep and multifaceted for they’re predictable yet unpredictable. They i.e the author expresses things that seem profound but you realize that these observations are so obviously visible in our world. The characters are my favorite part. Ifemelu, our opinionated ‘Americanah’ is a Nigerian woman who is uncomfortably frank at times and dares to question everything. We then have Obinze, her first love, sort of the only one who could stand Ifemelu’s hotheadedness and pushed her to think ahead. Both characters are very similar in terms of their ideologies and most of all their aspirations. Growing up in Nigeria, Ifemelu and Obinze are happy but always longing for more. They talk about how it wasn’t only them but everyone in Nigeria who was conditioned to believe that prosperity, happiness and ‘the good life’ is found outside of Nigeria. However, both set out only to find that even outside of Nigeria ‘the good life’ isn’t found easily. Halfway through college, Ifemelu has enough of the protests and political instability in Nigeria and applies to a university in America. Obinze sets out years later but to the UK instead, unable to get a visa he lives an undocumented life.

There’s a consecutive struggle and depressing period for both characters on eventually settling in and it’s inspiring to see them fight through it. Ifemelu’s life in America is filled with self-discovery, great people with interesting personalities and her uncovering truths about racism. She talks a lot about the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black in America. These parts were truly eye-opening and brought light to a phenomenon so relevant to today’s America. These insights have been woven into the story seamlessly so don’t seem educational or preachy but a mere thought of the character. I enjoyed seeing America through Ifemelu’s eyes.

Another focus of the book is immigration in both America and England. Both places have different histories and reputations which leads to the two characters’ having contrasting experiences as well. In America, Ifemelu’s story mainly deals with racism. Her race is seen as a barrier in everything she wants to accomplish. She acknowledges Black hair politics, the Obama administration and in general America’s race divide. Obinze in London on the other hand, lives in constant fear of being deported. The author also describes the saddening lengths he has to go to in order to get his papers. Apart from them, the many terrors of immigration are shown in the form of other characters like friends and family members. The book really highlights how immigration begins to define you and remains a sword hanging above your head.

The main storyline however, is that Ifemelu and Obinze eventually return to Nigeria. Both are altered by what they’ve faced. We see how Nigeria to them is a symbol of comfort, of one another and a place where they finally find what they were looking for.

Americanah is a story of discovery, of facing your fears and of staying true to your roots. Some say it’s a classic immigrant story and maybe it is, but I think it is more of a modern take on it. Even if the characters struggled and faced what might seem like things you’ve read about before, isn’t that a sign that there needs to be change?

Final thoughts~ With reference to the name, ‘Americanah’ is what people call Ifemelu when she returns to Nigeria. It’s a reference to the fact that her persona is now Americanized and her perspective has changed. But, Ifemelu proudly takes on the title. I think it’s also a reference to the fact that America not only impacted her, but changed those around her for the better. That being said, this book is full of witty remarks and strong-willed characters with lots to say. It’s the kind of book which asks the hard questions and pushes you to ask them. After this, I’m looking forward to reading more of Chimamanda Adichie’s work!

“Why did people ask, ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Pages Feature: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Thoughts on Americanah

Book Review- Americanah