The Thing Around Your Neck Hardcover – Import, 16 June 2009
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In these stories, which take place in Nigeria and the United States, questions of belonging and loyalty are multiplied several times over. Her characters, many of whom grew up in Nigeria and emigrated (or saw their relatives emigrate) to America, find themselves unmoored, many stumbling into danger or confusion. Rather than becoming cosmopolitan members of a newly globalized world, they tend to feel dislocated on two continents and caught on the margins of two cultures that are themselves in a rapid state of flux. . . . The most powerful stories in this volume depict immensely complicated, conflicted characters, many of [whom] have experienced the random perils of life firsthand. . . . Adichie demonstrates that she is adept at conjuring the unending personal ripples created by political circumstance, at conjuring both the 'hard, obvious' facts of history, and 'the soft, subtle things that lodge themselves into the soul.'"
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Haunting . . . In the first of these 12 stories set in Nigeria and the U. S., a spoiled college student doing a stint in a Nigerian prison finds he can't keep silent when the police harass an elderly inmate. In another, what seems like an excellent arranged marriage is doomed once the bride joins her husband in Brooklyn and learns he's an overbearing bore. And for the lonely narrator of the title story, falling in love means 'the thing that wrapped itself around your neck, that nearly choked you before you fell asleep,' is finally loosened. Adichie, a Nigerian who has studied in the U. S., writes with wisdom and compassion about her countrymen's experiences as foreigners, both in America and in their changing homeland. Here is one of fiction's most compelling new voices."
–Vick Boughton, People, A People Pick
"Imagine how hard it must be to write stories that make American readers understand what it might be like to visit a brother in a Nigerian jail, to be the new bride in an arranged marriage, to arrive in Flatbush from Lagos to meet a husband or to hide in a basement, waiting for a riot to subside, wondering what happened to a little sister who let go of your hand when you were running. How would it feel to be a woman who smuggled her journalist husband out of Nigeria one day and had her 4-year-old son shot by government thugs the next? If reading stories can make you feel . . . caught between two worlds and frightened, what would it be like to live them? This is Adichie's third book, and it is fascinating. . . . Characters (many in their teens and early 20s) feel a yanking on invisible collars as they try to strike out on their own. Sometimes, ties are cut by distance, leaving a protagonist disoriented and alone . . . Sometimes a lie or a death cuts the lines of trust that tie a character to the world they inhabit. Most of Adichie's characters are alone, adrift in a strange physical or emotional landscape. . . . These characters feel invisible, erased. They can't go home. They want to melt into America. What would it be like to feel that sinister thing, memory, around your neck? Perhaps you can imagine after all."
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Don't let Adichie's highbrow resume scare you away from her accessible and compelling short-story collection. Yes, the 31-year-old Nigerian writer won a 2008 MacArthur Genius award. But unlike many literary authors, she eschews pretentious obscurity in favor of clarity. In these stories set both in Nigeria and in the USA, she touches on religion, corruption, Nigeria's civil war and living in America as a lonely African wife. Mostly, however, she creates indelible characters who jump off the page and into your head and heart."
–Deirdre Donahue, USA Today
"Wonderfully crafted . . . Prose this skillful deserves international acclaim. Insightful, powerful and brimming with characters that seem to leap from the printed page, this collection is nothing less than a literary feast."
—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
"The tensions embodied in [the story 'Jumping Monkey Hill']—between fiction and autobiography, the expectations of the observer and the experience of the witness, not to mention the value of certain experiences in the global literary marketplace—practically seep through the pages of this collection. As a whole it traces the journey Adichie herself has taken. . . . All [her] personhoods are represented here: the sheltered child, the vulnerable immigrant in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the foreign student adrift in a dormitory in Princeton, the young African writer asked to objectify herself for an uncomprehending audience. . . . 'Ghosts,' in which an elderly professor in Nsukka meets an old colleague he assumed had died in the Biafran war, is a nearly perfect story, distilling a lifetime's weariness and wicked humor into a few pages. 'Tomorrow Is Too Far,' a kind of ghostless ghost story, delves beautifully into the layers of deception around a young boy's accidental death . . . And there is a whole suite of stories in which Adichie calmly eviscerates the pretensions of Westerners whose interest in Africa masks an acquisitive, self-flattering venality. . . . Adichie is keenly aware of the particular burdens that come with literary success for an immigrant writer, a so-called hyphenated American. Though she strikes a tricky balance—exposing, while also at times playing on, her audience's prejudices—one comes away from The Thing Around Your Neck heartened by her self-awareness and unpredictability. She knows what it means to sit at the table, and also what it takes to walk away."
—Jess Row, The New York Times Book Review
"Adichie belongs to the rare group of young writers whose wisdom sets them apart from writers of their age. . . . The Thing Around Your Neck once again showcases her insights into human nature under social, ethical, cultural as well as personal dilemmas. . . . In her notes about novel writing, Elizabeth Bowen emphasized both the unpredictability and the inevitability of a character's actions. Adichie' s best stories are perfect examples of her masterful perception of these seemingly conflicting qualities within human nature. I hesitate to use 'create,' as Adichie' s characters don't feel as though they were merely created; rather, it is as if they were invited into the stories by the most understanding hostess, and their dilemmas, pains and secrets were then related to us by the hostess, who seems to understand the characters better than they understand themselves, who does not judge them, and who treats them with respect and love and empathy that perhaps they would never have allowed themselves to imagine. . . . Reading ['On Monday of Last Week'] is like taking a journey of having one's heart broken in a foreign land, yet it is not the foreignness of the land that brings the pain but the foreignness in any human heart. . . In this and a few other stories about Nigerian women who have found themselves in America, Adichie transcends the norm of immigrants' stories and give the characters complexities that would be absent in a less masterful storyteller. . . . 'The Headstrong Historian,' a story that encompasses four generations of women (and men), achieves what a short story rarely does, with a symphonic quality that one would only hope to see in a master's stories, like those of Tolstoy. . . . Together these stories once again prove that Adichie is one of those rare writers that any country or any continent would feel proud to claim as its own."
–Yiyun Li, San Francisco Chronicle
"Haunting . . . Adichie deploys her calm, deceptive prose to portray women in Nigeria and America who are forced to match their wits against threats ranging from marauding guerillas to microwave ovens. . . . The devastating final piece, 'The Headstrong Historian,' seems to carry the whole history of a continent in its bones: tragic, defiant, revelatory."
–Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
"Like those of Jhumpa Lahiri, whose work bears a notable resemblance to Adichie's, the characters of The Thing Around Your Neck are caught between past and present, original and adopted homelands. . . . America is a land of yoga classes, drive-through banks, and copious supermarket carts, but it is also a surprisingly unsatisfactory promised land . . . a place where half-truths and buried secrets that form a life are ruthlessly exposed. [Here also is] Nigerian life seen from the outside: the perspective of the American immigrant, the memory tourist, the second-class gender. They are the stories of those whose tales are not told. Adichie deftly accesses the privileged mindsets of her Nigerian characters, who stubbornly insist on believing that they are to be protected from the worst. . . . Her Americans are outsiders clamoring to be let into society; her upper-class Nigerians are insiders clamoring to be let out of history. 'It would have been so easy for him,' [one] narrator observes on the occasion of her brother's release from prison, 'to make a sleek drama of his story, but he did not.' Nor does Adichie, who prefers ambiguity, and a certain abruptness of tone, to the carefully raked garden paths of other writers. . . . Whether these stories reflect the writer's own experiences, only Adichie knows. That they reflect the lives of her countrymen, there can be no doubt."
–Saul Austerlitz, Boston Sunday Globe
"There are various ways writers can be ambitious, but in our era they are often judged to be so only if their prose is c...
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- Publisher : Knopf (16 June 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307271072
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307271075
- Item Weight : 454 g
- Dimensions : 14.91 x 2.44 x 22.05 cm
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Top reviews from India
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I received The Thing Around Your Neck as a birthday present from a 'friend' whose friendship, unfortunately, didn't last long. Chimamanda did, though. I don't remember ever thinking about why I wasn't picking her up even though her book was waiting to be read. Her art of simplified truances were not for me. Now, the story is different. Books have taught me a lot and I have matured enough to bask in the sinful glory of a dreamless haze; sinful because how can someone, in a language that is being used everyday, create something as mesmerizing and as private as this?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, is, for me, like a fabled dream. African cultures have always drawn me towards themselves. The sheer monopoly with which writers from Africa or those of African origin carve their stories and tales in words is something with which I will be always biased. It is the history of slavery that had first drawn me to African writings and it is the same history of slavery, of oppression, of British colonialism and of the neo-colonialism that constantly perpetuates strength in me. African history is a history that taught me there is more to 'national' and 'cultural' history than what we generally see.
This book of short stories contain twelve short stories by Adichie. There is something about short stories that I both like and dislike - like the gorgeousness of pain, it stays and tingles long after the effect becomes invisible to the peering eyes. Be it the growing up of a boy in Cell One or the opaqueness of future of The American Embassy, the ghosts of Ghost or the contracts of The Arrangers of Marriage, the freedom of The Jumping Hill or the hate of Tomorrow Is Too Far - I want to carry it all. I want to carry Nkem's hopefulness, Chika's searchful eyes, 'you''s nothingness, Udenna's memories, Kamara's cage and Afamefuna's courage. I wish I had it in me to carry all of it but I know that I am too weak to bear all the weight.
This short story collection needs to be read by all of us. If it is possible, I'd even say that it needs to be re-read if you could spare a few moments to it. It is devastating, chilling, nauseating and yet it is so beautiful and glorious that it wouldn't part away with your skin. Read it. You must.
Adichie’s writing is clear, simple and delivers a hard hitting message when needed; issues like racism, patriarchy, after effects of colonialism and civil war have been dealt deftly. Usually with short stories there are hits and misses.... The Thing around your Neck is a clear winner.
Top reviews from other countries
This collection shows her at the peak of her powers - her characterisation, scene-setting, storytelling, her ability to make you *care* about someone you only met a couple of lines ago, are without equal. All her novels are full of characters who appear for a few pages, a brief flicker of interaction with the main storyline before vanishing (sometimes for many chapters on end, sometimes forever), and that's a skill she uses to maximum effect here, the short story the perfect format for Adichie to display her brilliance.
I know I'm gushing with praise here. I can't help it, she really is that good. Read this book. Read it now.
The order of the stories is interesting, and I wonder how many people might be put off by the sample - "Cell One", which opens the collection, is the most uncompromising thing here, dumping the reader straight into a stark, tightly-wound tale of middle-class family breakdown and prison brutality peppered with Igbo phrases and Nigerian slang and references to things like cults and the harmattan. Adichie has talked in lectures about growing up reading Enid Blyton, packed with alien cultural references; the first few pages of "Cell One" provide the Western reader with a similar experience, a similar expectation to get with the programme straight away. Do persevere, it is absolutely worth it. Some of the stories are more shocking ("The American Embassy" and "Tomorrow Is Too Far" both pack a wounding gut punch whose effects you'll never quite shake off), but most of the drama here is internal, vignettes of intense domestic dramas and questions of identity in Nigeria and in the diaspora. Not one of them is forgettable, staying with you to be savoured and reflected over even as you inevitably rush to start the next one because you can't wait to hear more.
Picking out highlights is a waste of time because there's not really a weak link in the collection. The title story, from which several themes are picked up in Adichie's third novel Americanah, is probably the best short story I've ever read, told entirely in the second person and painting just about the most convincing character portrait you'll ever see, is a magnificent centrepiece to the collection, but in truth pretty much every story here would be enough to carry a whole volume. "Jumping Monkey Hill" is a fascinating one; it's too tempting to see the central character, a Nigerian writer attending a pan-African writers' workshop hosted by an insufferable white English academic at a hokey safari-themed resort in South Africa, as Adichie herself. I'd love to know how autobiographical it really is, because the British characters come across as (literally) unbelievably patronising, and yet the host's attitude to the heroine's workshop submission - a true story from her life with a couple of key details changed - is also to call it far-fetched, as if to warn the reader not to make the same mistake with Adichie's own work. The final story, "The Headstrong Historian" is just Adichie showing off, a sublime piece of fan fiction set in the timeline (and written in the style) of Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", centred on a background character from the original novel, and done with such staggering aplomb it takes the breath away as you first realise what she's doing and then stand stunned as she carries it off.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hasn't long turned 30; not only is she one of our best young writers, I don't think the "young" qualification is needed. This is such a good introduction to her work, I already know I will buy every book she ever writes.
This collection of short stories have a recurring personae dramatis: Nigerian women. The stories portray the lives of Nigerian women in Nigeria and the United States with themes ranging from arranged marriage (The Arrangers of Marriage) and homosexuality (The Shivering) to the impact of colonialism on identity (The Headstrong Historian).
My favourite story is Tomorrow is too Far. It is written in the second person (you) and is about the death of a boy, Nonso. At the start, we know that Nonso's sister (the main character) is jealous of Nonso because he is the the favoured child of their Grandmother. With her cousin's connivance, they scare Nonso, who falls off a tree and die. Eighteen years later, they (sister and cousin) meet to reflect on Nonso's death. More than a reflection of the events, the story subtly questions the system of primogeniture that is practised in Nigeria.
Chimamanda Adichie is clearly a gifted writer (I loved Half A Yellow Sun). However, some of the characters were too flat to be believable. For example, Grace, a daughter of a missionary who challenges colonial notions of African primitiveness. As a Nigerian, I could identify with the character, but I could not appreciate her in the context of a short story; Chimamanda skipped too many layers of history and meaning, rendering Grace terribly unbelievable.
Chimamanda is no Langston Hughes, one of my favourite short story writers (see the Ways of White Folks). Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this collection of short stories and hope that she can improve her art. The Thing Around Your Neck is no history lesson; there is no overt agenda or lecture here. If you want to kick back and enjoy a nice read on a Sunday, then I would recommend this book; it deserves three stars.