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The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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's review
Sep 20, 11

bookshelves: short-stories, read-in-2009
Read in August, 2009

These, by now, are familiar stories of immigrants to America adjusting to a clash of cultures, which exposes faults on both sides and tests relationships. Lahiri springs to mind, Mukherjee, or Le Thi Diem Thuy, but Adichie lacks Lahiri's subtlety and power and the latter's poetic wonder.

The stories set wholly in Africa detailing close scrapes with civil war/unrest in Nigeria, or its prison system or, eg, a queue outside the American embassy in Lagos studiously ignoring the 'soldier flogging a bespectacled man with a long whip that curled in the air' reminded me of Uwem Akpan's 'Say You're One of Them' but Akpan's work, despite many faults, has a richness and immediacy not quite achieved here. That's not to say these are bad stories, they're not, they're good, more than competent, and I enjoyed many of them, particularly Ghosts, suitably chilling, Jumping Monkey Hill, funny, (although this was a standard writer's group story complete with the lecherous older leader and his acolytes), and the Headstrong Historian which compressed three generations of an African family - colonised, Christianised and Westernised and finally returning to roots - into 15 pages. The title story uses the to-me-now-irritating second person, a la Lorrie Moore and others, again to good but too familiar effect. So good stories well told but for me overshadowed by other writers covering similar ground.
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message 1: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Uh, oh - Nancy writes in the second-person in Dead Girls - hope it won't put you off!!!


Anna If by "other writers covering similar ground" you mean to compare Adichie with all those who write about the complex and varied experiences of colonialism and immigration, you are reinforcing the idea of a hegemonic, superior, Western canon that places all other non-white, non-Western authors in the category of "other." To think that Adichie must somehow measure up to all authors in this broad, generalized, racialized category is like saying "penguins are decent birds, but not so great when compared with birds of paradise, and of course both of these species share a category separate from seagulls, based on the fact that they are not seagulls (seagulls being the more prolific and familiar birds in my world view)."


Alan Hi Anna, you have a point. If I hadn't read the other writers I would probably have rated this book higher. I don't think I am doing as you say - reinforcing the idea of a hegemonic, superior, Western canon that places all other non-white, non-Western authors in the category of "other." Maybe I am. I think I'm comparing books I've read. To use your analogy, I think I'm saying I prefer birds of paradise to penguins.


Anna :) I tend to get my back up when works become defined by the place or people about which they are written. Adichie writes from her own experience just as most authors do. She does not aim to be a token representative of any group and has in fact taken offense to suggestions that her writing speaks for all Nigerians or African immigrants to the U.S. To me, the value of her work is firstly that it is good, moving storytelling with compelling rounded characters, and the fact that some of her stories reveal aspects of the immigration experience is a secondary feature that should not serve to categorize her writing.


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