Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Thing Around Your Neck

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a collection of short stories that I have been listening to on audiobook over the weekend while doing crafty stuff. I picked it out because she was winner of the Orange Prize back in 2007 and I have her book lurking in the TBR pile.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is Nigerian, and these stories cover a broad spectrum of life as experienced both within Africa and for those who transplant themselves into western culture. The themes running through them all are about the need for a cultural identity and ties of history that bind people. All of the stories are narrated by women, but a variety of ages and from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them had quite universal story lines; parents concern over a son who gets arrested, and the sibling rivalry that is sparks, a young woman coming to terms with the end of a relationship finds a shoulder to lean on and is so wrapped up in her own concerns she does not even notice the much bigger problems in her new friend's life. Others were much more specific to her own background: one tale takes us into the life of a young mother, who has been moved by her rich husband to America to raise her children, almost as if she has become merely some kind of status symbol for him, and who comes to feel herself excluded from his real life and yearns to return to Nigeria. The ones I really liked were: 'A private experience', in which two women from very different backgrounds find themselves trapped together during a riot. A very claustrophobic atmosphere, quite frightening but a real bond of trust is built up between them as they share tales and wait for calm to return. The other was the final story, 'The headstrong historian', following the life of a woman as she struggles against family and cultural pressures. I liked her resilience and determination in dealing with her husband's family's 'curse' of infertility, the superstitious rituals pay off and she has a child. She tries to get her son an education but instead loses him to the catholic missionaries. She stubbornly resists her son's attempts to 'convert' her and succeeds in implanting in her granddaughter the roots of her real identity and the girl eventually finds her own path back to her origins.

I had to skip a couple of stories because one of the discs was damaged but it was definitely an interesting collection, and I always enjoy books that take me into a totally different world, something outside my own life and experience. It feels very worthy to say that I learned something from these stories about other people's lives, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

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