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It was with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's second novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) that I first discovered her writing talents. This was only her second novel following her debut novel Purple Hibiscus (2003). Both novels won numerous literary awards and were superb examples of novels and so I had always been looking forward to her next work, but it seems that we need to wait a little longer for that next novel. Instead 2009 saw the release of The Thing Around Your Neck, which although marketed by some as her third novel this is actually a collection of 12 short stories, all of which have previously appeared elsewhere.
I'm not a huge fan of short stories and so The Thing Around Your Neck didn't tempt me enough to want me to part with my cash for quite some time. I picked it up on several occasions but it's such a thin book that the £7.99 price tag always seemed steep in comparison with other titles on the shelf. Eventually I gave in and purchased it and now I've just finished reading it for the second time I feel worthy of reviewing it.
In Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie uses her native Nigeria and the Biafran war as its setting. I was amazed to discover after reading that, that she wasn't even born until 1977, many years after the war had ended. In The Thing Around Your Neck she once again draws on the rich history of her homeland, its political turmoil and her own Igbo roots, and although the setting of each story is very different they are each believable and serve to educate us about Nigeria.
In The Headstrong Historian (story 12) she transports us back to the Nigeria of the mid 19th century and a culture obsessed by witchdoctors and Black Magic which comes into conflict with Christian missionaries. This is a story about a woman who sends her son to the missionaries so he can learn to speak English and stand up to the white men in the courts, so that one day he might be able to reclaim the land that she believes is rightfully theirs. The son receives his education but can his mother live with the consequences?
Elsewhere she places characters abroad as it seems that most educated Nigerians end up working overseas but here she uses strong Nigerian characters and uses this as a clever way to tell her story from a different angle.
Sometimes she hints at things but never really tells us what happens and I confess that at times I found this frustrating and often I found the endings to be quite an anti climax. One such example of a story with a weak ending is the first one in the book Cell One. This is the story of a well educated family that find their son imprisoned because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cell One hints at corruption at the highest levels in authority but we never really know learn what happens there, instead it is left for our imaginations.
My favourite story is Ghosts, which uses the setting of the Nsukka University Campus which also appears in Half of a Yellow Sun. It's the story of a retired professor who believes he is visited by the ghost of his wife; while he fights the bureaucrats at the university for the pension he was promised.
The 12 stories are entitled
A Private Experience
On Monday of last week
Jumping Monkey Hill
The Thing Around Your Neck
The American Embassy
The Arrangers of Marriage
Tommorrow is too far
The Headstrong Historian
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie isn't afraid to confront many subjects that are still taboo in Nigeria like homosexuality, corruption and bigamy but in general she uses the more familiar subject of relationships and the way that individuals interact with one another.
Overall I did enjoy most of these stories but I did find a couple of them of them quite hard to read like Jumping Monkey Hill and The Shivering. Here the pace is quite slow and I couldn't help feeling that these stories never really went anywhere, but like all of the 12 stories they are quite complex and that's why I felt that I needed to read some of them twice.
In conclusion I have to say that there is isn't actually anything here that is half as good as any of the individual chapters in Purple Hibuscus or Half of a Yellow Sun and I still have high expectations of her future work, especially considering that some of these stories were written as long ago as 1993.
And if you're wondering what The Thing is and whose neck it is around then you'll have to read story 6.
218 pages (paperback)
As a big fan of Adichie's earlier work, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this book. I was slightly disappointed when I got it to find that it was not another novel but a book of short stories. I was looking forward to losing myself in another amazing Adichie book.
However, the short stories were also great little pieces of work that have the depth of longer stories. Each was set in Africa, usually Nigeria, and Adichie does a brilliant job as usual of conjuring up an image of Africa in the readers mind. Even though the stories were short, Adichie still managed to put real life into her characters. Each story made you sop and think after reading it.
This is a good book but as the stories are so short you don't mind putting in a little extra reading to get to the end of the story. This means that you get through the book very quickly. But it is a great book full of great stories.