Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie: A Review

Well, I renewed this book with the specific purpose of having it on hand while I wrote this review.  It was due yesterday but I didn't get a chance to return it so it will incur late fines.  This, at least, motivates me to get this review done.  

I honestly wish I could write as in-depth a review as I would like but the life of a mom with two kids dictates otherwise.  Instead of calling this an official book review, I will just write about how I felt about the book.

If you know me, you know I just *loved* Adichie's novel Half of a Yellow Sun.  Now, I have always realized that I am biased in my love for the work because I am Igbo, my father fought in the Biafran War and my mother lived through it.    Her book served as a segue into a discussion with my parents about the war.  For some reason, we really do not talk about their history in Nigeria much.  I sometimes feel as if life started over from scratch for them when they immigrated to the U.S.  Or, more accurately, that life started for them when it started for me--that's how history starved I am.  So Half of a Yellow Sun became a great opportunity to learn about my family's history, the history of Igbo people and the history of Nigeria.  Some of it was painful to hear indeed but some of it was fascinating.  Aside from that, it was just a riveting read.  Adichie, in my opinion, is a gifted writer.  It's an opinion that Chinua Achebe shares as well so that's saying something.

I've also read Purple Hibiscus, her freshman novel, which though not as captivating as Half of a Yellow Sun, was beautifully written and established Adichie as one of my favorite authors.

The Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of short stories which is one of my favorite styles of writing: literary instant gratification is right up my alley.  Right off the bat I will say that I think Adichie is more of a novelist than a short story writer but that is not to detract from her.  The stories in this book are very interesting to read and written in her characteristically charming style.  The plots have as protagonists Nigerian men and women--some in Nigeria and some newly immigrated to the U.S. and some who've been living here for ages, some born here.  I mean, the variety of the stories is stunning.  There's no two ways about it:  Adichie is a creative mind and force to be reckoned with.  I was held by every story and thoroughly savored reading each one.  If forced to pick my favorite story, I'd have to go with "Tomorrow is Too Far" which is about a girl who accidentally causes the death of her brother--a brother who was the favorite child, who elicited laughter from their mother in a way she never could, who was pleasing to everyone.  She (and her cousin) carry the truth of her brother's death.  A runner-up would be "The Shivering" where we catch a glimpse of something very taboo in Nigerian society: homosexuality.  This theme also comes up in "On Monday Last Week".  I was excited to see the topic being handled although since these are short stories, the topic was just broached.  "Ghosts" was also a really interesting read. 

I discovered that two of the other stories in the book I had read before in the New Yorker  Magazine  (and re-read again while reading the book).  The first is "The Headstrong Historian" and the other one is "Cell One".  These were enjoyable as well (worth re-reading) but not the best stories in the book, in my opinion.

Long and short, The Thing Around Your Neck was a fantastic read and highly recommended. 

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