The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Courtesy of Fourth Estate

The
Thing Around Your Neck is a stunning collection of 12 short stories by
Nigerian-born award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Adichie’s
previous works include the superb novels Purple
Hibiscus
(2003) for which she won the
Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book in 2005 and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction
in 2007.
The
Thing Around Your Neck
The Thing Around Your Neck shifts between stories based in Nigeria and the USA
and tackles all of the big issues of ordinary life that are the same regardless
of where you are from: marriage, family, love, sexuality, death, belonging and
acceptance.
Many of the stories are based in and around the university town of
Nsukka where Adichie grew up, and others take
place in her adopted home in the USA where she moved at the age of
19 to study. Adichie places both worlds under a microscope, the result often
making the reader uncomfortable. She makes no apologies along the way.
Here is a taste of some of the 12 stories to be found in the book:
“The Shivering”, The Thing Around Your Neck
I first heard “The Shivering” when Adichie read an extract at a
writer’s festival in Australia.
The story remains one of my favourites in the collection, perhaps because it
travels a great distance in so few pages. 
It opens with Ukamaka, a Nigerian student based at Princeton in the USA, waiting for news following a plane crash that
has just occurred in Nigeria.
Her ex-boyfriend was supposed to be on the flight. 
An unexpected knock on her door introduces Chinedu into her
apartment and her life. He is a fellow Nigerian who lives in the same apartment
block and wants to prey, in his Nigerian Pentecostal way, for the safety and
souls of those on the plane.  And so
begins a friendship of sorts that is both moving and unexpected.  Adichie explores homosexuality and the plight
of illegal immigrants, as well as lost love and rejection. It’s a lot crammed
into 25 pages.
“Jumping Monkey Hill”, The Thing Around Your Neck
“Jumping Monkey Hill” is the most autobiographical of all the
stories in the book, and perhaps the most amusing.
It tells of an African Writer’s Festival set just outside of Cape
Town organised by African literature expert Edward Campbell – “an old man with
teeth the colour of mildew.” No names are given to the writers except Ujunwa (Adichie
herself?); they are simply described as the Ugandan man, the Tanzanian man and
the Zimbabwean woman etc. Perhaps Adichie’s dig at the organiser and his lack
of “seeing” the people he has invited.
The idea is that each writer will formulate a story during their
stay at Jumping Monkey Hill to make up part of a book.  When one young female writer offers up her
autobiographical work with homosexual themes it is shot down by the “expert” as
not a reflection of the real Africa.  Following this, Ujunwa tells her story but it
is also criticised as being implausible and “not a real story of real people”,
although the actual writing is “mah-ve-lous”. 
It bids the question, what is an African story, and who judges what is
plausible and what is not.
“The American Embassy”, The
Thing Around Your Neck
In “The American Embassy” a woman waits in a queue outside of the
embassy in Lagos, Nigeria
to obtain an asylum visa to the USA.
She is on the run from her own government who have killed her child and are in
pursuit of her husband.
Adichie switches the story between the details of what has
happened to the woman leading up to this day and the banalities of standing in
a queue, life dependent on the hands of a visa interviewer.
Just the day before she has buried her child but how can she prove
it to the interviewer? How can she prove that her husband, the editor of The
New Nigerian newspaper, has with the stroke of a pen put his life and the life
of his family in danger by asking questions of the government?
The story will pull at the heartstrings of any parent or any
spouse who has ever felt like they have failed their love ones in any way. 
The Thing Around Your Neck (Fourth Estate, London, 2009 ISBN: 978-0007-306213, 218
pages.)

My rating: ★★★★★

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