Paperback Reader

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The Thing Around Your Neck

Posted on | August 18, 2009 | 15 Comments

“At night, something would wrap itself around your neck, something that very nearly
choked you before you fell asleep.”
Last month I closely read and reviewed two of the short stories from the collection The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in anticipation of reading the others, which I now have.

I enjoyed this volume; Adichie’s writing is evocative and intense but I didn’t think that the stories had the same impact as her novels. Some stood out and overall I found the political ones, the ones set in Nigeria, to be more powerful, especially “The American Embassy”. In the others, she focused on the alienation of Nigerians living in the United States and I found them to be a little cold and disconnected, even jarring, which may have been the point to evoke the incongruity and the hard work of adjusting to a new country, culture, and language. Anyway, I liked those stories but I didn’t emotionally connect with them as I did the others.

The stand-out story for me was the last in the volume, “The Headstrong Historian”, which can be read here. Not set in recent Nigeria nor in America, this story is about the wife of a fringe character from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and parallels the great African Literature story of Okonkwo. In Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, she pays tribute to Achebe, the “grandfather of African Literature (an accolade paid by Nelson Mandela), and in this story she does so again by telling the story of the wife of Obierika, Okonkwo’s wife. Set amongst the Igbo tribe in the fictional villages of Umuofia, it tells the struggle of Nwambga ,following the death of Obierika, to provide for their son Anikwenwa, with the help of White missionaries. I re-read Things Fall Apart four years ago so my memory was not fresh enough to say how closely the story parallels the events of the novel but I noticed a couple of clever allusions, the same recalled memory or cultural tale. By far, this was the story that most impressed me.

Have you read these stories? How do you think they compare to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels, if you have read them?


15 Responses to “The Thing Around Your Neck”

  1. JoAnn
    August 18th, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    I'm looking forward to reading Adichie, but will probably start with her novels. Just can't decide which one…

  2. verity
    August 18th, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

    I am tempted by these, even though I'm a short story-phobe. I loved her novels very much though.

  3. Paperback Reader
    August 18th, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    JoAnn, I've read and loved both novels. Half of a Yellow Sun is definitely the better of the two so perhaps you should leave that until last?

    Verity, I am not phobic of short stories but I do have a love/hate relationship with them. There are some exceptionally good short story writers, however, like Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield, Neil Gaiman, and Edgar Allan Poe; Adichie has the potential to join those writers but she's not quite there yet (despite fabulous prose).

  4. leaningtowardthesun
    August 18th, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    I enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun and have had my eye on this collection of short stories since it's release here. Thanks for sharing a link to the story published in the New Yorker. Now I can satisfy my appetite until I can pick up the book!

  5. Paperback Reader
    August 18th, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

    leaningtowardthesun, you'll find links to a few more stories here:

    I hope you enjoy them!

  6. Laura
    August 18th, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Having read both of her novels, I'm really looking forward to this short story collection. Thanks for the great review.

  7. Paperback Reader
    August 18th, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    You're welcome, Laura; I hope you enjoy it.

  8. farmlanebooks
    August 18th, 2009 @ 8:35 pm

    I can't remember which story I liked best, but I did enjoy them all.

    I think I prefered Purple Hibiscus to Half of a Yellow Sun. I loved all three books, but Yellow Sun was just a bit too dark and had a few too many characters for me. I liked being able to connect so strongly with the girl in Purple Hibiscus.

  9. Paperback Reader
    August 19th, 2009 @ 8:16 am

    Jackie, what I love is that Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and now The Thing Around Your Neck each offer different things for different reading moods and yet all have magnificent prose and recurring themes.

  10. Nymeth
    August 19th, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    I'm happy to hear your favourite story is available online! I've saved the link to read later. Also, I'm glad my book buying ban doesn't include Bookmooch – I found Purple Hibiscus there and I'm hoping to score Half of a Yellow Sun too sooner or later. Must read more Adichie!

  11. Paperback Reader
    August 19th, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

    Ana, try to mooch Things Fall Apart, if you can; the story will be even better once you've read that.
    I hope you find a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun; I thought it was a great novel albeit harrowing.

  12. Carl V.
    August 20th, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    I am a big fan of the short story. A well done short story is such a wonderful treat. I agree that Gaiman certainly has an amazing talent in the short story arena. And Poe was of course a master, as was Lovecraft. I think Suzanna Clarke's short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, is a dream and their have been a number of wonderful sci fi/fantasy anthologies over the years that I've enjoyed, especially the Eclipse books (two out so far) that Jonathan Strahan edits.

  13. Jodie
    August 20th, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    I'm just redaing 'Half of a Yellow Sun' now and loving it. I was already persuaded to read the story collection though because of it's gorgeous cover (yep shallow I knwo).

  14. Paperback Reader
    August 20th, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

    Glad you're enjoying Half of a Yellow Sun, Jodie! I found it harrowing but a great book. Also, you are not shallow in the slightest; the cover for this collection is beautiful and I was relieved to see that the paperback has retained it.

  15. West African Authors « Diversify Your Reading
    April 12th, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

    [...] Chimamanda Ngozi (Nigerian, Wikipedia) The Thing Around Your Neck: Reviewed at A Striped Armchair, Paperback Reader Purple Hibiscus: Reviewed at things mean a lot, Book Addiction Half of a Yellow Sun: Reviewed at [...]

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