Thursday 29 October 2009


Over the last couple of weeks, I have read quite a few short story collections, so I deem it appropriate to make a review about a short story anthology. The book I shall be writing about is entitled “The Thing Around Your Neck”

Now, this is the latest offering from the stable of the multiple prize-winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book comprises of a dozen stories written about characters, many of whom are Nigerian immigrants in America. There are also many stories woven about different situations evolving in Nigeria.

For those familiar with Nigeria (and indeed other parts of Africa), the stories in this book have a familiar ring to it as they relate to events and/or occurrences that have been experienced, seen or heard about. Adichie tackles gritty issues in a matter-of-fact unapologetic manner. She writes about issues which are dear to millions of people and probably unknown to even more.

There were a few stories which resounded with me, the first of which is “Tomorrow is Too Far”. This is a story woven around survival, sibling rivalry & jealousy and resentment. It follows a protagonist who has travelled to a village in Nigeria upon learning about the demise of her grandmother, to face demons she had left behind eighteen years previously as a result of a tragedy which she had brought upon her family.

“The Arrangers of Marriage” lets us into the life of a woman who has been coerced into marrying a Nigerian man that is resident in the United States of America and come to America on the back of that. It is a marriage that has been arranged by her relatives as he is considered a catch because as they have been informed he is a doctor who lives a successful life in the USA. It is only after she gets to America that she realises as the days go by that all is not as she was made to believe. This is one of my favourite stories of the collection.

“The American Embassy” and “On Monday Last Week” are two other stories I enjoyed. “A Private Experience” is a story about one of the religious/tribal riots that has blighted the northern part of Nigeria. It covers the acquaintance and shelter of two women from different religious, economic, educational and cultural backgrounds who find themselves in pretty much the same boat as a result of the riots taking place. Each of them religiously and culturally represents an opposing side of the warring factions, but both are forced by the circumstances they find themselves in to spend a night together. It has a haunting end and an undertone faintly reminiscent of and not entirely dissimilar to that in her second novel “Half of a Yellow” Sun” with regards to the feelings of limbo and the lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of a loved person.

There are other stories in this collection which are also worth reading.

I do however find it imperative to say that what I will call the one major downside for this book is the fact that I could only look forward to reading 25% of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way insinuating that the other 75% of the book is unreadable. What was a problem for me was the fact that I had read 9 out of the 12 stories in various journals, reviews etc. and I only had three stories to look forward to in this anthology. For those who are avid followers of Ms. Adichie (and/or those who devour copious amounts of literary magazines, journals or reviews), the story might be a little grimmer because as many as 11 of the 12 stories in this book have previously been published in other fiction media. I am well aware that it is pretty much standard procedure in anthologies for short fiction for writers to have a mish-mash of their previously published stories mixed with fresh or new stories. However, for me having all of the stories (bar one) previously published might have the distinct effect of leaving those who buy this book more than a little short changed. At a point, I was left feeling that I had only benefitted from a fraction of the £14.99 I had forked out to buy this book. The only story that appears not to have been previously published is “The Shivering” and I must say that it is one of my least favourite of her stories. The story starts out well, promises a great deal, but then fails to live up to that promise. Another story I was not particularly enamoured with is “Jumping Monkey Hill”. There was something about this story that did not resonate with me. The story appears unnecessarily contrived. Though I admit that there are some good characters therein, I am of the opinion that the author could have done more with this story.

However, despite my foregoing grouse, this is nevertheless a short story anthology that cannot be tossed aside lightly. Adichie’s writing style is consistent and more often than not has the effect of leaving the reader craving more. Also employed to great effect by the author is the knack of letting the reader come to their own conclusions (or to guess the final outcome) on some stories. Unlike quite a number of contemporary short story collections, this book can be quite thought provoking and gives readers something to sink their intellectual teeth into. Except they are not fans of short story medium, those who have read and enjoyed her other books will not be disappointed with this latest offering. It is a good short fiction collection by a formidable writer which I am proud to have on my bookshelf.

Written by
Ayodele Morocco-Clarke
October 2009

[Ayodele Morocco-Clarke is a Nigerian lawyer and writer of mixed heritage who has a passion for literature. She is the editor of Critical Literature Review and her written works have appeared in Author Africa 2009, Hackwriters (a University of Portsmouth magazine), Sphere Literary Magazine, Storytime, Author-Me and on The Clarity of Night blog. She also has work forthcoming in Saraba Magazine, Mimi MagazineThe Anthology of Immigrant Writing (2010) and  African Roar [2010 short story anthology, co-published by Lion Press and StoryTime]. Ayodele hopes to publish an anthology of short fiction soon and is currently working on her first novel.] 

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