"I felt as though I were in a different physical world, on another planet. The people [...] wore a mark of foreignness, otherness, on their faces..." Chinaza, a young Nigerian bride describes her new surroundings in New York. She, like other protagonists in this quietly affecting collection of stories, seeks to adjust to daily life in the United States, a country they could only envision from snippets of information prior to their arrival. With each of the twelve stories, award winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie opens a small window into the minds of those who grapple with the challenges of bridging traditional cultures and modern realities, whether within Africa or, as in the majority of stories, across continents.
Her central characters may be young brides, part-time wives, mothers, students or job seekers, whose lives are captured in a crucial or decisive period of time. Through Adichie's perceptive portraits, we gain insights into a wide range of "private experience[s]". We meet Nkem, who, having settled with her husband in the US, has now reason to worry about his continuing life back home in Nigeria. Kamara, a recent immigrant, needs to get by on a babysitting job after her uncle and long-term resident, made unwelcome inappropriate advances. Graduate student Ukamaka, abandoned by her boyfriend, finds an unusual friendship in the most unexpected way... Taken together, these sensitively crafted stories, some more like beautiful, impressionistic vignettes, yet always ending with a surprising twist, create a colourful mosaic of women's efforts to take control of their lives, confronting - with varying level of success - the obstacles they face, be they from their own extended family, the prejudices of their surroundings or from their own lack of understanding.
Four stories are set within Africa, adding depth to our appreciation of Nigerian cultural traditions and conflicts. In 'Jumping Monkey Hill', for example, a group of aspiring authors from different corners of Africa meet at a Safari club for a writers' retreat. While at one level the most satirical story, it raises serious questions on prejudice and multicultural open-mindedness among different African peoples. The last story,'The Headstrong Historian', stands alone among the stories, in terms of structure and subject treatment. Couched in a multi-generational Nigerian family portrait and centred on Mwangba, a strong central female character, it explores the historical and continuing clashes between strong cultural traditions, social progress, and old and new religions. Written in the best African story telling tradition of, eg. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
, it confirms Adichie's place among the impressive group of internationally recognized Nigerian authors. At the same time, as the other stories in this collection illustrate, the author is finding her own voice and style to story telling. Two of her stories, for example, are written in the second person, creating an unusually intimate connection between reader and author, with us pondering who the "you" really is.
Most of the stories have been published individually at different times. Nevertheless, bringing them together in one volume will be much appreciated by readers familiar with the author or wanting to explore her writing. Both her novels, Purple Hibiscus: A Novel
and Half of a Yellow Sun
have won international praise, with HALF OF A YELLOW SUN winning the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. When reading THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK, other comparably excellent story collection on cross-cultural and immigrant experiences come to mind, especially Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies
or M.G. Vassanji's When She Was Queen
. [Friederike Knabe]