“Riots do not happen in a Vacuum, religion and ethnicity are often politicized because the ruler is safe if the hungry ruled are killing one another”-A private experience
Our busy schedules do not leave out enough time for novels, thank goodness for short stories. They provide the necessary escape into an inviting world, a world that evokes all your emotions, and just before reality comes knocking the story is done. Leaving you to go back to adulting until you have more time for a short read.
This is exactly how I felt about Chimamanda Ngozi Adiches’ the thing around your neck. It is a compilation of 12 short stories, all told from the perspective of women except for one story. These short stories have varying themes whether it’s dealing with adultery, surviving tragedy or being caught in the middle of a religious political warfare. Her stories are real, somber and reflective of how fragile life is. I found myself invested in the pain, in fact some stories I found myself wanting more.
Before we delve in deeper about the book; I thought let me share a bit about the background of the author for those who have been living under a rock (you are welcome!) Miss Ngozi Adiche was born in Nigeria in Enugu, the 5th of 6 children. She grew up in the university town of Nsukka (some stories in this book are based there), her family lived in the house formerly occupied by the legendary Chinua Achebe ( coincidence? I think not). Her grandfather died in the refugee camp during the Nigerian civil war (You must read her classic novel Half of a yellow sun). She now divides her time living between Nigeria and the United States of America. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages and has been published in various publications.
I must admit that the young girl in me, who grew up reading Gone with the wind and Pride and Prejudice, is glad for stories of woman who look like her, I can finally relate on a deeper level. My personal favorite stories were the private experience, Jumping Monkey hill, The American Embassy, The arrangers of marriage and The headstrong historian (yep most of the stories were my favorites)
A Private experience– tells the story of two women,whom due to riots are seeking refuge in a store. They are of different ages and two opposing religions. In this moment they are companions and the author weaves us in and out of the present and the near future beautifully. Though it is set more than 40 years ago the devastation of warfare is still relevant one need only think of Syria.
Jumping Monkey hill– is set in Cape Town where writers are convened for a competition and are constantly told by a white man that their stories are not African enough even though at times they are based on truth. This story was poignant for me as too often African stories are incorrectly believed to only about poverty and warfare and colonization. In addition the women have to down play unwanted flirtations (read sexual harassment) due to the fact the said offender has connections and can make or break their careers.
“The next day, he came back with a Good Housekeeping All-American Cookbook, thick as a bible.“I don’t want us to be known as the people who fill the building with smells of foreign food,” he said.”- an excerpt from the arrangers of marriage.
The Headstrong Historian– is the last story and is set far earlier in history then the other stories. It is about a courageous woman Nwamgba, who chooses to marry for love despite her would be husbands family fertility curse. The women in this precolonial Nigeria have such autonomy. White men are later introduced and she takes her son to the schools were he becomes a christian and looks down on his traditions. The story later focuses on Nwamgba and her granddaughter who becomes a historian, before I ruin do give it a read, it makes for the best of endings.