Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story “The thing around your neck” is one of a number of stories she publishes under that collective title. The themes she covers range far and wide, but all seem to emerge from the fact that she is a Nigerian woman who moved to the USA to study.
Her story telling style is distinctively African – straightforward, evenly-paced and deceptively simple, something that has earned her the admiration of Chinua Achebe, the African writer most well-known and respected in Europe and the USA. She is undoubtedly the inheritor of the long legacy of African storytelling, but behind the simplicity of the story telling lies a raw passion, an indomitable spirit, an uncompromising honesty – she tells it as she sees it, with no holds barred.
Her themes are many. She paints a picture of a home country under the domination of corrupt officialdom where life is lived in vulnerability and humiliation. In among the violence and sectarianism of course flow streams of tenderness, love and fellow-feeling, but even these Adichie seems to use as a means of screaming as loud as she can at social injustice, the duplicity and misogyny of men, the mixture of tears and blood that flow from the bodies of Nigeria’s fallen.
There is also of course the theme of isolation and alienation, the difficulties of living in a foreign country and I get the impression that Adichie’s voice is truly that of someone trying to inhabit two worlds at once – the USA and Nigeria. Nigerian characters in the USA are always phoning home, making plans to visit the relatives they are estranged from.
Her stories are both robust and fragile at the same time, reflecting perhaps life in general, but also life for Nigerian women in particular, women who like Adichie herself, had to shout to be heard but still live a vulnerable life caught between two cultures.
Adichie is a good introduction to modern African literature for the uninitiated, a literature far more valuable that any tour guide if you want to get to grips with the continent. The thing around your neck is published by Fourth Estate.