African literature is an emerging fiction subgenre; Oprah Winfrey recently picked the African short story collection Say You’re One of Them for her book club. West African writers have compelling tales to tell through vivid storytelling. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie builds on this fiction landscape with The Thing Around Your Neck, the author’s first short story collection.
The Thing Around Your Neck is the author’s follow-up to her successful novel Half of a Yellow Sun. While her collection of short stories are not as engrossing as Half of a Yellow Sun, the stories provide a snapshot of the lives of Nigerians coping with emigration to the U.S., living in a developing nation, and struggling to pursue their dreams.
Many of stories have the usual themes of fiction - love, fear and despair – and Adichie weaves the universal feelings effortlessly through the stories. Kamara, the pessimistic nanny in “On Monday of Last Week,” craves attention from the child’s mother and sooths the endless worries of the child’s father, becoming awkwardly intertwined with an upper-class family dynamic. Adichie invokes the pleasure of a new crush and distain for silly problems of the rich.
The author’s talent shines exposing life in Nigeria through storytelling. She discusses tribal and religious fighting in “A Private Experience.” The violence and corruption of Nigeria are told from the vantage point of a desperate woman in “The American Embassy.” A retired professor recounts the Biafra war in “Ghosts.”
The title short story, “The Thing Around Your Neck,” is the standout in the collection. A young woman moves to the U.S. to find the harshness of life without family. The tale of loneliness is told effectively through second-person narration, the reader feeling the pain of the main character and hoping when she finds love with a rich college student.
Adichie successfully covers multiple perspectives of African life. In “Jumping Monkey Hill,” Ujunwa is a young female writer headed to a writers’ workshop in South Africa. The characters in the story are named based on their nationality. Adichie uses the setting to flesh out stereotypes such as the overly confident lesbian Senegalese and the sexist Kenyan. These clever devices help give the stories authenticity in a nice twist of the first-person narrative.
The only quibble with The Thing Around Your Neck is the predictable endings that accompany most of the stories. Perhaps Adichie’s charm lies in her ability to take the reader through the journey of life.